Grandparents have always played a pivotal role in the lives of children across cultures and countries. They, most often, have been our source of support, unconditional love and unlimited pampering. With the changing times, the nature and dynamics of their role and responsibilities towards their grandchildren has changed.
Growing Need of Grandparents for Childcare
In the joint family system, there would always be a caregiver pool and the grandparents alone were not responsible for child care. With the advent of nuclear families and the need for both parents to work to make ends meet, the role of grandparents has changed steadily overtime. The involvement of grandparents in child care has become indispensable for working class families for two reasons: One, to reduce cost of childcare and second, to enable young mothers to get back into the workforce, in the face of little help from their partners in caregiving and non-viability to employ paid caretakers. Grandparents are reliable, trustworthy and dependable individuals to leave one’s children with, rather than strangers in a world filled with umpteen dangers and risks. While this is one end of the spectrum, the other is grandparents do not get to meet or know their grandchildren at all and vice-versa owing to the nuclear family system and scattering of the family across the globe.
With globalization, the work timings have become longer and is not a regular 9 to 5 job anymore. Parents are working longer, with increased travel times and very little time at their disposal. You would see many of them shuttling their grandchildren from school to tuitions to hobby classes; feed them on time; make them do their homework and help with school projects; take them to the park, parties, study groups, or playground and so on. This has necessitated that grandparents too become tech-savvy and more aware to cope with the changing and growing needs of their grandchildren.
Earlier, grandchildren would make yearly visits to meet their grandparents. But now, it’s become a trend for grandparents to shift cities to help raise their grandchildren and not just paternal grandparents but maternal grandparents too. It is not uncommon to see the two sets of grandparents taking turns to raise their grandchildren.
Closer and ‘Chill’ Grandparents
Grandchildren are increasingly looking to grandparents for advice and mentoring. Since grandparents today are more educated and have greater exposure than grandparents of previous generations, they are not seen as guardians of outdated values and redundant ideologies. There is greater closeness between the generations.
Since many of today’s grandparents were working parents who could themselves not spend as much time with their children and were also negotiating the needs of their older and younger generations, they have taken grandparenting as a second chance and often try to be ‘chill’ and ‘cool’, and not as strict as they were with their own children.
Not always a bed of roses…
This is all not just a bed of roses, there are some drawbacks to the changing role as well. Grandparents are unable to mix with people their own age or engage in activities of their interest, they are overworked and stressed, they become isolated from friends and peers due to shifting cities or localities, and their emotional, physical and mental well-being is affected.
Despite all the merits, it is essential that the needs of grandparents is not overlooked or undermined in this process, and that the parents strike a balance.