Monday, 3 March 2008

#16 Quality time with grandchildren

Perhaps I’m not a typical grandmother of the 21st century; I haven’t relinquished my free time, or abandoned recreational or educational pursuits, or quit my job in order to care for my grandchildren while their mothers return to the workforce. In fact, I was bold enough to make it perfectly clear to my children and their partners before first-borns entered the world, that I would not babysit while they worked, except in emergency situations. “Emergency situations” do not include school holidays or after-school care – they include times when the regularly employed care-giver is unavoidably unavailable, or when the child is unwell.

To some grandparents and working mothers, this might sound harsh, and even neglectful. But to other grandparents who have been trapped by babysitting commitments, this probably sounds like bliss.

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My husband is employed, so I am fortunate in being able to choose not to earn an income. I value my freedom and independence - I can choose to become involved in activities without the hindrance of carting a toddler and associated paraphernalia with me; I can accept or offer unexpected invitations; I can carry out freelance work or volunteer work if I so desire; and my husband and I can choose to take advantage of time off to relax together or have an outing or holiday. We can be spontaneous with our time. I’m on the other side of 50; this is my time for new adventures and indulgences.

“New adventures and indulgences” do, of course, include establishing quality relationships with my grandchildren. But at this time in my life, I do not intend to be shackled with the commitment of regular child-minding duties which would have the possibility of fostering resentment, either toward the child or the parent.

I do not have the patience or endurance of a 25 year-old. Nor are my maternal instincts regarding youngsters as strong as they were when I was a young mum; the automatic selfless sacrifice that a parent of young children practices, has faded, replaced by the desire to use my time and energy more selfishly. I can only comfortably cope with young children in small doses.

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As a young mother, I was asked by a friend to take care of her extended family’s young children while her 6 year-old niece was buried. The girl, the first-born grandchild of the family, was killed in a school bus/train level crossing collision.

The child-minding at the home of the grandparents was a difficult task due to the tragedy and circumstances of the loss; my husband assisted. It was a heart-rending situation, but I wasn’t to fully comprehend the extent of the implications of such a loss until much later in life when I had become attached to my first grandchild.

Now, the thought of losing one of my own grandchildren is simply unbearable.

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After coming to terms with my daughter's unexpected pregnancy seven years ago, I began looking forward to having a baby in the family; “a baby, how cute and delightful”. But nothing prepared me for the overwhelming love I would feel for that child. I discovered that a grandchild is not just “a baby in the family”, but is the most precious gift a son or daughter could ever give to his/her parents.

***** ***** *****

Without unrealistic or unwanted expectations, my time with my grandchildren is quality time, not quantity.

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My son and his family visited last weekend, for the first time since their move away from the Hunter Valley about 10 weeks ago; it was a special time. They timed their visit to meet their new nephew.

As well as family time, I asked to have time with 3 year-old Flynn and 22 month-old Trinity alone. My other half knocked off work early so that he could also have quality time with his grandchildren.

I read books, and more books. We both helped the kids with puzzles and played “pretends”. We all threw balls and played in the garden, and had lunch together. Yes, it was thoroughly wonderful quality time with the littlies.

Ma reads to Flynn

. . . . and encourages Trini with puzzles

Today I’ll watch Zach and baby Heath while mum has staples removed from Caesarean birth operation of five days ago. Having time at my disposal, and unlimited love to give, I am privileged to be able to offer my children the parental support they need as parents of young children – this is separate and different to regular child-minding for working mothers. The quality time I spend with my grandchildren is precious. I am blessed.


Julie said...

Oh, but I suspect you are - a 21st century grandmother. What you aren't is a 20th century grandmother!
What an extraordinarily thought-provoking post. One of the hard things about an on-going family arrangement is how to bring it to an end and yet retain the relationship.
My daughter asked me about a month ago whether I was going to be a hands-on grandparent. Taken aback, I commented that I was not sure that was what she wanted - that I had attitudes, habits and thoughts that she may not agree with. She did nt comment on this. She knows that my father was not a hands on grandparent. We only ever saw him about 3 times a year. Now she does not know what to talk about with him.
How come are you called "Ma"? Did you chose it, did you inherit it or did you have it foisted upon you? Is Graeme "Pa"?
Great photo by the way - Graeme's?

Gaye from the Hunter said...

So many questions, Julie. I love questions - it gives me a chance to expand on things.

Our daughter, Tracy, was the first to have a child in the family, and we all discussed together what we, as first-time grandparents, would be known as by the grandkids.

Our children had 4 grandparents at the time, called "Nana and Pop" and "Grandma and Pop". So those names were struck out to avoid confusion.

Our son's girlfriend was already calling us Ma and Pa (which was better than the "Mum and Pa" that she started out with considering they were so young). Our son's friends then started calling us Ma and Pa. We both liked that, and so that is what we became to all the kids.

The photo of me was taken by my daughter-in-law before she left me with her kids for our fun morning.

Regarding retaining the relationship while asserting wishes, simple honesty is my method, along with explanations, give and take, consideration - communication.


elfram said...

All I can say is "What a lucky set of grandchildren you have, with you, Gaye, as Ma!" (Not forgetting the contribution from your other half, too.)

If I ever get born again I hope I get someone like you as a Grandma (that's what I called mine).