It could be you ....
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.
So many of our Laterlife generation express joy at having grandchildren while others regret not yet thrilling to a grandchild’s arrival. And many too bemoan the way grandchildren are being raised or are living their lives.
Is that justified? Or is it just that we cannot accept that our ways are no longer relevant to today’s faster, electronically enhanced, pressured way of life? Are grandchildren really ruder, less well educated, less healthy? Why is there rising concern among grandparents?
Most of us had a very different childhood from children in the 21st century. We experienced the discomforts of the postwar years. Except in America and Canada, there was rationing, lack of central heating, telephones only in better-off homes, few cars, outdoor lavatories and primitive bathrooms, while medical care - only just entering the antibiotic era - was still far from sophisticated.
Despite all that, we can still look back on freedoms which brought us great pleasures, even while we had the discomforts! They were simple pleasures and they remain available to children today. But they do seem harder for them to access. Whereas we took our freedoms for granted - in the countryside we could wander far and wide across the fields, build camps in woods, play with friends until dark, constantly learn about our surroundings. At home, the whole family gathered around the fire to read, play games or make things while listening to the radio. We could ask parents about things we didn’t understand. We could tell them about our experiences at school or when playing and we could hear them talking to each other, making plans and exchanging news. While we learned how adults communicate, we also learned how to amuse ourselves and use our imagination. We could learn practical skills without even realising how vital that was, finding it fun to chop wood with Dad or bake with Mum. In the towns and cities, children could play in the street, often until late. No-one fretted about safety because the neighbours all knew the local children and kept their eye on what was going on. Children were soon told off for misbehaving, and any stranger was soon spotted. The cinema cost pennies, especially on Saturday mornings, the parks had space for games, which helped develop team and negotiation skills as well as a sense of belonging to a peer-group or gang. And even in urban homes, experiences were not unlike that of country children.
With such memories, we can feel sorry that our grandchildren’s lives don’t or can’t have such confidence-building know-how. Most parents feel that children need to be taken, often by car, to activities or play-dates, and be brought back likewise. Cars have become vital now that public transport has become so inadequate. Worse, cars have changed the nature of our streets. No more footy or hopscotch in the road! Even a trip to the shops for sweets or an errand for grown-ups is uncommon because of safety worries. Most homes have telephones as well as several computers and televisions. But TV in a child’s bedroom divides a family. So-called X-boxes and interactive gadgets inadequately simulate exercise for the growing child. To us it seems they spend far too much time inert, watching TV or the computer monitor, and we worry about how much money goes on presents, especially at parties which include every member of a nursery or classroom. Such excess means that children often can’t recall who gave them what, so they can’t thank anyone properly. Appreciation and gratitude are lost abilities. Where is the personal connection? When is there time to voice a worry or get guidance? Gone is the daily playing in the open air. Where is the reality of making actual friends, not virtual ‘friends’; where is there bonding through imaginative play? These days, many children go for a play-date and sit in front of the TV, or play video games, or share their time on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
Children can spend too much time inside the electronic force-field that is modern communications. Grandparents feel pity on their behalf, and disappointment. Some feel annoyed that when grandchildren visit them, they want their usual amusements and aren’t interested in talking with grandma or grandpa. I think I can safely say that some of my own grandchildren know little about me. In fact, after I suggested a grammatical correction to a piece of my 12-year- old granddaughter’s homework, saying that as a writer I always checked my work, she expressed shock that, at my great age, I ‘wrote things’, that I still worked.
We have just had our 16-year-old granddaughter from America with us and she was full of curiosity. For me, it was a pleasure to share things and see how it became reciprocal. She could voice her pleasures and concerns and was eager to ask her grandpa and me about our lives. She had expected our experiences to be irrelevant to her life but has gone away realising that much is shared. True, she lives on Facebook, but is beginning to find it shallow and increasingly unnecessary, ‘Now I Twitter to my friends much more’….. Well, after all, I lived for Radio Luxembourg, Radio Caroline and Radio 1, then Top of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test!
Like so many of her age, our American granddaughter is pushed by huge peer and media pressure to behave in a completely ‘adult’ way before she has acquired sufficient self-knowledge to moderate such behaviour. It is worrying to watch this inevitable rite of passage for teens. I feel for them all. True, we all had to find our way into the adult world somehow. True, it was fast becoming a world my parents, in the late 1950s and early 60s, were puzzled by and resisted. Yet, the external pressures were less and we were allowed to have our full childhood. Advertising was directed at an older market whereas now it targets the young, who are so used to digital media that they are vulnerable.
There is thus a wide assumption by the older generation that children today flounder in a sea of hostile influences, that their childhood is lost and that this somehow will prevent them from becoming good members of society.
But that is wrong. Our grandchildren do indeed live in a brave new world, with different risks and hardships as well as different pleasures to enjoy. But we must allow them have their world. We must never let them doubt that they can talk to a grandparent in a way many might not talk to their parents. We have a broader and deeper perspective on life than even mum and dad. That parents seem to have no time to talk to and listen is hurtful but it is partly to do with the pace of the world we have helped create. Anyway, who would want the smoke-filled rooms of yore, the ice on the inside of the bedroom window, the mile or two to walk to school whatever the weather?
We must be patient. We must try to remember how we felt about our own parents or grandparents at times. Perhaps we won’t get the opportunity to pass on our tales and experiences to them personally, but we can write about them. We can make a memory book and give it to them when they are adult enough to appreciate it. Too often, we bemoan the lack of knowledge of a lost relative when it is too late.
Don’t blame the children for not asking - they have busy lives to lead. Much of that is beyond our understanding but the effect never changes and the generation gap can be bridged. Like us, they will become good adults given the love, guidance and encouragement of elders.