Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.
For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.
You can write to Maggi at email@example.com for her to respond in the column.
IT COULD BE YOU….
I have been searching the web for
a solution to a problem concerning my grandchildren, and I found
the laterlife website. I think it looks fantastic. I shall visit
it regularly and tell my friends about it.
We are both feeling sad and worried, as we have not seen two of
our four grandchildren for almost a year. We used to see them
often but that has stopped. The visits were always at our
instigation. This isn’t a healthy situation in the family and I
don’t know what to do.
Dear Mrs AS, Thank you for your kind words about the
website, I’m sure everyone involved will be pleased that you are
spreading the word.
But to your problem…
How hard it is for grandparents -
and grandchildren too - to lose contact with each other.
Grandparents have a very special role in a child’s development.
We do not have the responsibility for everyday childcare, the
preparation of meals, planning out of school activities or
choosing and paying for holidays. We are not the ones who say if
the child can or cannot go on a play-date or have an expensive
Grandparents just are. We can be there whenever the child
wants a bit of company for themselves or someone neutral to talk
to. We can sit for ages helping to make a cardboard model or a
jigsaw puzzle and listen to chatter at the same time.
The child who has grandparents nearby is a fortunate child.
The bond is deep in a different way to that of parent and child.
It in no way detracts from the love for a parent – it is simply
a different relationship.
For a while I was a little jealous watching my own mum be
warm, cuddly and giggly with my sons, remembering that my
relationship with her had been tense and fraught with conflict.
I eventually realised why and felt pleased for my boys and for
She could play and show affection with them, as she
didn’t have the added pressures and worries that most parents
struggle to balance while trying to do the best for their child.
She had time and a quietness that was not available when I was
small. I longed for a grandparent. All of mine had died very
young so I decided to adopt the old ‘Gramps’ from next door.
Gramps spent his days gardening or sitting on a bench in the
sun in his waistcoat and braces, smoking a pipe and telling me
tales. I loved the strong smell of him, earth and pipe
tobacco. He was only there for two years but his image is clear
in my mind to this day, decades on. For a brief period I felt
the security of an elderly friend and he deepened my love and
respect of the people and ways of the countryside.
Grandparents do not have to be anything other than what they
are. Children draw close if you can listen to them with
interest, be excited in their tales and games and spend time
with them. Grand-parenting is a pleasure for us, and provides a
vital link and stability for the child.
I wonder if your son or daughter realises the important role
you have played and have still to play in the welfare of
their children? The relationship between the children and you is
not to do with their parents but a personal bond between them
and you. Parents need to respect the child’s wishes and
affection for you.
Is there any way you could talk things through with them
without blame or accusation?
Try telling them how much you
treasure time with the little ones and how important you
feel it is for the children to have the choice of contact.
Acknowledge how hard their
struggle to run their family must be.
If you are physically able to
have the children occasionally, offer, explaining it is your
way of trying to support them.
Ask if there is anything you can
do to make the visits easier for the parents, i.e. you
travel to collect the kids for a few days to give them some
time together, or perhaps offer to house and child-mind
while they take a break.
Stick to their routines and
patterns in their house and promise not to over indulge the
kids when they are in your care. So no buying loads of sweet
or gifts and no late night tv if they are only tiny– you
will need that time for yourselves!
Perhaps the young parents are so
stretched that they find having guests to stay too
stressful. If that is so, offer to visit but say you’ll find
a guesthouse nearby so that they don’t have to rush around
making up beds, etc.
Keep visits short, a few days is
better than a week if they want to get on with things. A
short but happy visit is much better to remember than one
that drags on with awkwardness marring it.
Never, but never, criticise
their parenting. They live in a different age and have their
own way of doing things. It is hard to resist at times, I
admit, but so long as our grandchildren are not being mis-treated,
we have no right to interfere.
The best we can do is to always
keep the channels of communication open with our grandchildren.
As the years go by they will swing between wanting to be with us
as much as possible and not contacting us for months, but the
love we show them is a constant in their lives that gives them a
deeper sense of self-worth and belonging. It is never forgotten.
You can write to Maggi at firstname.lastname@example.org
for her to respond in the column.