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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - April 2017

Once a listener, always a listener...

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

Once a listener, always a listener...

I overheard a conversation on the bus a few days ago and it struck me as being the cry of so many grandparents.

A couple in their late fifties were discussing a forthcoming birthday party for one of their grandchildren. They have a son and a daughter, both married, both with young children. It was clear that these grandparents were anxious about how they would cope with the behaviour of the son's children.

The boy was nearly five, the girl a little older. They were described as rude, greedy, lazy and not at all pleasant. By contrast, the daughter's children, of similar ages, were a pleasure to be with. The couple behind me had clear ideas about why there was that difference. There was no unsupervised or unlimited access to any phone or tablet screen. The children were excited about coming to see their grandparents, were polite and ready to join in preparing meals. They were keen to go for walks, play games and then watch television with their granny and grandpa for an hour before bed.

I found myself inwardly nodding in agreement at the general change in the habits of small children these days, and began to feel anxious for the two 'difficult' grandchildren.

Through the journey, the couple talked about the jobs the son and his wife had and how these differed from those of the daughter and her husband. He was a manager of an electronics business, she joint owner of a women's boutique. They were comfortably off and had a lot of help with childcare. The other grandparents cared for the children at times and always brought sweets, chocolates and toys for them.

My bus companions, however, lived further away so saw the grandchildren only now and then at weekends. They too gave presents, but only if there had been a long gap between visits. Those gifts would be specially baked cakes, books, or a toy grandpa had made.

The son, by contrast, brought work home so his children usually saw him at the computer. He bought them tablets to play electronic games on and was happy to let them watch whatever they found on television, whether in the kitchen, the family room or even in the parents’ bedroom - anywhere as long as they kept quiet. Family time was often nothing better than having meals while watching the box. The children could be demanding - they played their parent's off against the child-minder and the other grandparents: "Nanny always lets us have sweeties and biscuits before supper".

What I was hearing was a vivid description of what thousands of families struggling to raise children face – all too enticing modern temptations.
So many parents work hard full-time and trust it to others to supervise their kids. Coming home tired out, and through pressure from their over-indulged, possibly bored or angry kids oryoungsters who had been pigging out on sugars and fats but doing nothing active enough to burn all that off, give in and sit and eat with them, but do so while watching TV rather than giving their children true attention.

How, then, will such children get any message that they are the most important little people in their parent's world? How, if they’re given things which keep them quiet, distracted and immobile, will they learn that their thoughts, experiences and ideas count for something, are worth listening to? Words alone do not convince a child. An expensive holiday once or twice a year does not convince a child. There needs to be regular focussed interaction and shared experiences - a half hour of listening to the children when home from work, an hour of doing things together every day or two, indeed a weekend doing things with them, even if it is simply talking to them regularly at table, without TV or radio distracting them from sharing time, attention and the meal. Sure, sharing a programme is cosy but little if any 'interaction' can take place because everyone is looking away from everyone else. And, just as important, how does each child, if and when they reach the edge of acceptable behaviour, know that mum or dad is too tired to show them how to be kind, considerate and loved, not only as a member of the family but in the outside world, if they are not told when they go too far?

These young parents sounded so very tired to me. Nor do I envy the grandparents. They will have to bite their tongues! Grandparents can indeed guide their grandchildren lovingly and firmly when on their own 'turf', but can’t interfere with what’s happening in the home of a son or daughter. They are the adults in charge, responsible for their own children now. The way we raised our own children is a world away from how many young parents choose to raise theirs.

That’s hard for the couple on the bus. Hard to resist contrasting their dismay over their son's children with the delight of seeing their daughter's. She works part-time and her husband earns little, so they can’t afford the expensive amusements of the son's family. But their children take pleasure in being active, enjoy helping to prepare food cooked at home and, above all, love their grandparents’ visits. Those children are secure and happy - they feel no need to act badly to get attention, and if they get cross, do so briefly, in a normal, healthy way which is accepted and can be 'managed' by a parent who makes time for them.

I feel sorry for children raised in a world of plenty – plenty of material things –yet impoverished by an upbringing lacking time, attention and security. Those children are learning too that work is exhausting, taking up most of their parents’ time, so that all they have is whatever energy their parents still have left at the end of each day.

That makes me sad.

I would love to give all such modern parents a gift of time. I would love to give them permission to stop feeling guilty. And I would love them not simply to spend money on their children, but spend time with them.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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