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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference

June 2009

Jeanne DavisThis month we are delighted to welcome back Jeanne Davies, who used to be a regular contributor to Laterlife in years gone by.

Jeanne has published numerous features on mid life and ageing issues in the Guardian, Woman’s Realm and other national publications.

She is the mother of two and grandmother of four and will now be writing a regular column for us on some of the key issues associated with being a grandparent.

Grandparents Do Make a Difference.

by Jeanne Davis

According to Age Concern, grandparents now provide some form of childcare for more than 80% of children in the UK. Most of us do it for love and because we want to make our children’s lives easier. Time-poor working parents need the help.

But do we sometimes wonder if we really do contribute to the grandchildren’s development, their well-being, their skills in coping with life? Yes, we do make a difference, according to a recent national survey led by Oxford University: Grandma and Grandad play a key role in the raising of children.

Key findings revealed that grandparents are involved in helping to solve young people’s problems, as well as talking with them about their plans for the future, what courses to choose, what path to take. Grandparents teach children to read and write, to cook, to garden.

At times of family breakdown and separation, the report concluded, grandparents play an important role in bringing stability.

Look at Barack Obama, President of the United States. His parents had divorced, his father had returned to Kenya and his mother had settled with her new husband in Indonesia. His grandmother in Hawaii, whom he called “Toot”, brought him up through his teenage years. “My grandmother poured everything she had into me and helped to make me the man I am today,” he said on the night he was nominated for President.

No one size fits all. Time involved with the grandchildren varies from one or two days a week to full-time care, from once a month to a few hours on an afternoon. Some grandparents want to do or can do no more than pick them up after school, give them supper and oversee homework.

Our own grandparents may not be the most useful role models for today’s responsibilities. Most likely, they were of the “children should be seen and not heard generation.” I find it hard to visualize my own grandmother getting down on the floor with a grandchild, as I do, to build a Lego tower. . The only time she may have kneeled down was to look for dust under the bed. And my grandfather - he was a distant figure who sat in a wing chair conversing only with grownups.

We feel younger, healthier and, because the parents of the children are usually both working full or part time, grandparents are needed as never before. Since the 1970s the number of grandparents providing childcare on a regular basis jumped from 33 to the 82 percent.

It’s not a role you always slip into easily. There is a learning curve. Many of us have forgotten what it’s like to raise young children, how to cope with an infant’s needs, when and how to discipline the toddler, the pre-teen, how to entertain them. We worry, too, that we may not be doing what the children’s parents think appropriate.

Recognising an increasing need, a new website, has been set up to help with the questions and to exchange views. It takes its cue from the hugely successful parents’ web forum New books are being published, a grandparent’s guide and books on ways to occupy grandchildren.

We often read of the unconditional love grandparents feel for the grandchildren, but how often do we hear from the grandchild? One of the most moving tributes came from Prince Charles on the death of the Queen Mother at 101. He has said that he still misses her every day: “She was simply the most magical grandmother you could possible have.”

In future Laterlife columns on grandparenting we’ll talk about activities you both enjoy! And the new technology: discipline and when you ache to say something about the children’s upbringing: the sensitive subjects of pay and how much time is reasonable to give, how to say no.

Resources: ‘The Modern Grandparents’ Guide’, Jackie Highe, Piatkus Books.

A Grandparents’ Guide to buying books for the grandchildren’, Jeanne Davis, Laterlife, February, 2008.

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