Are grandparents the best care givers?

Image taken from Freeimages

With so many working mothers, grandparents are playing a larger role in bringing up the baby.While grandparentsseem the natural choice over impersonal creches, are they always the best care givers?Indeed, I have heard of 
cases where the child is actually ill treated by its own grandparents who resent this intrusion into their lives. Not only are the children expected to conform to the rules of an old age home but the children are often illtreated by over strict grandparents.

The generation gap

With domestic help being either erratic or exorbitant, several young mothers have to resort to keeping their children especially their babies with their parents. But today’s are generally over 50 ( much higher than what it was in my own grandparents time – my husband’s grandmother became a grandmother at 36 when most women these days are becoming first time mothers!) This often makes the age gap between the generations even wider than was normal in my generation.

Many people feel that age is just a number and indeed grandparents of today are fitter and more active than grandparents of an earlier age but it is not often the age but the stage in life that makes people the way they are: older people are more set in their ways and often grandparents resent the intrusion in their lives. Predictable middle age is taken over once again by the unpredictability of a young life, one that is curious, energetic and extremely demanding.

Older people not only prefer quiet but also prefer children to be perfectly obedient, running when told to run and sitting still like a “good boy” but children especially toddlers are not conducive to being perfect little people. They want to run around and court danger – in fact they love getting a rise out of “teasing” old grandpa or old grandma who has to scramble to her feet and run after the little one. The pure glee on a little one’s face when he sees the complete despair and frustration of the older person when baby is running around, jumping on sofas or climbing up things he shouldn’t be doing is quite undescribable!

Apart from the slowing down of faculties with old age, there is a slowing down of energies and a tendency towards depression – especially when old people hear news about the death or illness of friends and relatives. This can send many an older person into days of moodiness and inward behaviour and the older the person, the more frequent this news and the longer the spells of depression.

Unfortunately children have a way of sensing things and when the adults in the house apart from the care givers are experiencing some ups and downs, children sense the friction and actually take sides, sticking closer to the care giver than ever before. And it is not only conflict that children attune themselves too, but also sense sickness and show concern. This quick response to moods makes it  all the more important for older people who are looking after young children to be more aware of their state of mind and depressions. It is not only loud noises, yelling and screaming that children are scared of; they are equally frightened by withdrawn adults who remain silent or maintain a studied indifference to their surroundings.

The change a grandchild brings

My life has changed completely after my grandson has come into my life, not only because I look after him every day but also because he has taught me many lessons that otherwise would have gone unlearnt – the main one being that if you are incapable of looking after a child, please do not volunteer to take care of the baby. It is hard for a grandmother to refuse taking care of a grandchild but don’t forget that you are shaping the personality of another human being. Are you able to control your own moods and remain calm and equanimous through all the changing seasons and aches and pains that you may suffer from? Are you able to keep pace with the little one’s antics, roll with him on the floor, play horsie and out-shout him at the count of three? Are you capable of bringing yourself down to his level and indulging him the use of expensive equipment so as to satisfy his curiosity? Are you patient enough to do the same task again and again, allow him to mess around with his food, let him tear up your newspaper before you’ve had a chance to read it?

So are you ready to look after your grandchild?

Sadly, many people think that looking after a grandchild especially a toddler is a breeze. My friends look at me with envy when they see me squat effortlessly beside my two year old or they admire my patience when I don’t say anything when he jumps on my newly upholstered sofa or spits on my silk sari.  Well, I tell them, indeed it is a blessing and a privilege to look after your grandchildren and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way,  but I would tell anyone who wants to volunteer with baby sitting – this is not a one off situation and requires a whole hearted commitment. Attempt it only if:

  • you are fit and fine and have the energy levels of a thirty-five year old,
  • if you have a sense of humour that accepts ridiculous situations
  • if you have the imagination of a five year old
  • the patience of an old granny and of course
  • a genuine love for the child.

If not, it is far better to put the child in a well run and well recognized crèche rather than do him the injustice of placing him in a prison of love that restricts his natural instincts and makes him older than his time.


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