Be honest, if someone says ‘grandma’ what image pops into your head? You think of the grandma from the fairy-tales read to you as a child don’t you? A stooped old lady with her grey hair pulled back in a bun with glasses perched on the end of her nose and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
This, in a slightly less exaggerated form with a blue rinse (who on earth decided blue hair was a good idea?) was how my grandma looked. I am a grandparent of two (possibly three when I’ve finished this blog) and when I look in the mirror this is not what I see! Grandparents and indeed ‘grandparenting’ have changed over the years.
grandparenting way back when…
We visited my grandparents (sadly only grandmothers as the War claimed directly and indirectly both grandfathers) twice a month. Every other Sunday we would all descend on one or the other of them – a bottle of Blue Nun clutched in my Mum’s hand and us three children bickering as we slid across the back seat of the car in our ‘Sunday best’.
Grandparenting was different back then. My grandmothers didn’t ‘entertain’ US while we were there, they were too busy spreading cream cheese into celery sticks (the epitome of ‘posh tea’ in the ‘70’s) and slicing hard-boiled eggs for tea. In fact, my grandmothers never babysat us, never had us for the holidays and certainly didn’t fund our activities – unless a pound note for ice cream money when we went on our summer holiday counts!
the here and now of grandparenting…
These days grandparenting is very different and grandparent care is the most common type of non-parental care. With grandparents being an integral part of the sometimes complicated childcare mix. Recent studies also show that grandparents now are funding everything from their grandchildren’s school shoes and trips to their first wheels - both the pram and car!
I see my grandchildren far more often than twice a month and although I am not in a position to provide regular childcare, I babysit, have sleep-overs and (don’t tell my husband) I spend a small fortune on them!
have the grandchildren changed too?
When I was growing up, we were allowed - in fact, often required to be out! “Out from under my feet” my mum would shout on Mondays. The dreaded, once weekly washing day as she mustered mountains of clothes into piles to heave into the twin tub. And, especially on visits to our grandmother’s houses where there was no toy box or TV. We were allowed to be bored, though, in all honesty, we rarely were.
My grandchildren, however, often seem cocooned. Protected in the bubble of home and family. They come to stay armed with gadgets to entertain them and are transported, by the taxi of grandma and parents, to a scarily busy schedule of activities.
what does the future hold?
With increasing numbers of grandparents still in full-time employment or caring for their own parents, as people are living longer. The ‘free’ grandparent childcare resource will be more stretched in the future. Will grandparents be too busy to play? They won't be filling celery sticks or slicing eggs necessarily but working and keeping up with their own schedules to see their grandchildren as much as now? Will we go full-circle and revert to Sunday visiting as I did? Will future grandchildren have to learn to entertain themselves like I did? I suspect grandparenting will just evolve and each family will find their fit – the important thing is to keep the contact even if distance dictates the contact is via Skype. Or work dictates that it’s not as often as you’d like.
making the most of every moment
Often grandparents these days feel pressured to come up with really exciting entertainment for their grandchildren when they visit. The pressure compounded by ‘perfect grandparents’ on Instagram and Facebook. I have in the past spent hours Googling baking recipes for children. Loading child-friendly games onto my laptop and planning theatre trips to see the latest ‘must see’ characters from favourite TV shows. But I’ve come to realise, what grandchildren really want is your love and undivided attention. When they know that you just enjoy their company and you can just have fun together, however often that may be. Going anywhere and doing anything (even if it’s nothing) is just great!
For some further reading, read our good grandparenting guide.