Grandparents are the real support system for working parents. They provide an anchor system. They instill good values in children and cushion the stress. Children learn a lot from their grandparents. By following certain guidelines, grandparents can become an indispensable part of bringing up their grandchild.
Two sides of the story
The word "grandparent" conjures up a picture of a sweet, plump, grey-haired, smiling woman, or an elderly man with kindly, twinkling eyes and a hearty laugh. In one's mind they are associated with a constant supply of goodies, a comfortable lap one can climb onto to listen to the best stories, sage advice and endless pampering in general. But this is fairytale stuff. The question is how well does this picture translate into reality?
For some people, like twenty-two-year-old Anjali Mehra, it does. A mother of an eight-month-old daughter, she and her husband live with her in-laws. When asked what she thought of the arrangement, she said, " I think it's great. Sudhir's (her husband) parents are very supportive. I can leave my daughter with them and go out any time without worrying about her. They just dote on her, but at the same time they manage to be strict with her."
Sapna Doshi, on the other hand, has a different opinion. She says, "I have a four-year-old son and we live with my mother-in-law. My husband is away at sea for long periods of time, so I'm virtually a single parent. My mother-in-law is constantly interfering with the way in which I bring up my son. If I scold him, she will immediately say I'm being too harsh and rush to comfort him. If I request her to baby-sit for a few hours so that I can go out, she complains that I'm neglecting my child. There's just no winning with her."
The demands of parenting and what constitutes parenting is constantly changing. We may not do many things for our children that we would have expected our parents to do for us. Similarly, our parents may not have done many things that we will be expected to do for our children. Thus, there are no set rules or guidelines for parenting. It is a daunting task to be responsible for moulding your offspring into well-rounded, happy individuals and it does not help to have your own or your spouse's parents constantly looking over your shoulder, telling you how they could do a better job.
Often parents and grandparents get into a situation where they are competing at parenting. All parents want to be the best parents that they can. New parents are possessive about their babies. They are feeling their way around and this makes them insecure and vulnerable. The better the grandparent was as a parent, the more threatened the new parents feel as they feel the pressure to live up to those standards. It does not help to constantly hear words like, "In my time"- or "If it was me,"- While there is no disputing the fact that grandparents do have more experience than fledgling parents, grandparents should remember that times have changed and they only hurt their children by constant criticism. They are sending out a message that they think that their children are neither competent, nor caring enough to be good parents. One does not become a supermom or a superdad from the minute the baby is born. Parenting is about learning from one's mistakes, not from one's successes. Grandparents may find it difficult to sit back and watch a potential problem situation develop, but they should try to remember that they were not perfect to begin with. Many people have a tendency to remember only their successes and forget their failures. Grandparents should offer their children sympathetic support rather than unsolicited advice and criticism. They should play the role of good listeners and offer suggestions when asked for. The beauty of becoming a grandparent is the fact that you embark on a whole new relationship with your children, on an equal footing.
Grandparents can be a boon
Today, in most families both parents go to work and that means that parenting is made that much more difficult. Children need a great deal of love, care, time and attention. This is when grandparents can step in and lend parents a helping hand.
Shefali Mehta, mother of fourteen-month-old Shama, runs a business out of her home. She says, "Even though I work from home, I find that I don't spend enough time with my daughter. I'm either on the phone or in meetings. While it is much better than going out to work, in the sense that I can go and spend time with Shama whenever I get a free moment, I wouldn't be able to manage if it wasn't for my in-laws. They have encouraged me to work and have never once made me feel that it is at the cost of my being a good mother."
Grandparents can help cushion the stress and demands of modern day parenting. When a child is ill, or a mother needs to go back to work, or there is some other crisis in the family, grandparents can be lifesavers. Unfortunately, generation gap and a lack of communication sometimes act as a barrier to young parents availing of a wonderful in-built support system. Grandparents are wary of offering help in case their overtures are rejected, while their children are wary of asking for help out of the fear of criticism and of being marginalized. Parents need to remember that after them grandparents are probably most concerned about their children's well being.
Studies of child development have shown that children benefit from exposure to an extended family comprising grandparents, aunts and uncles. While their parents are their safety net, grandparents, aunts and uncles, offer children different options and help inculcate a sense of family and values in children. Grandparents and other members of an extended family can be an important means of imparting religious beliefs and ethnic values. New parents should appreciate the value of tradition. Grandparents can teach family customs and expectations to the new generation. The present trend of globalization and urbanization represents a strong possibility of our losing sight of our roots and our identity. Therefore, it is important not to belittle the knowledge of our elders. While some of their beliefs may seem passe, we should not dismiss their suggestions and thoughts lightly for they have the weight of experience behind them. Culture and values are often passed on more easily by grandparents to children. This is because children are more amenable to listening to their grandparents as their interactions are not marred by the daily battles of disciplining that is the parents' responsibility.
Grandparents can also be of great help in those tempestuous battles between parents and children when children are striving to assert their independence and parents are struggling to maintain control. Grandparents can be a blessing as long as they don't take sides. They can help calm the stormy waters by patiently listening to both parties and explaining the cause of strife objectively to each. They can remind the parents of their past and similar battles that they had with each other. However, grandparents must give priority to the parents' concerns over their grandchildren's demands. Grandparents should realize what a wonderful position they are in. They can enjoy their grandchildren without getting into the nitty-gritties of day-to-day discipline.
Guidelines for grandparents
The primary rule for grandparents is to remember that they are not parents. They should regale their children with stories of the 'old days' and of when their parents were young. Remember that every grandchild is a person in his or her own right. Treat them as individuals and try to spend separate time with each. Grandparents should consult their children before they take their grandchildren on outings or buy them presents. Grandparents should make their children feel that they can count on them to baby-sit whenever they might need them. It is important that grandparents leave their children to find their own feet as parents and not undermine their authority in front of their grandchildren. Grandparents should try not to offer advice unless asked. Most important, grandparents should give their children a pat on the back when they feel that they have been good parents.