An Appreciation of Grandparents – Offspring Perspectives

by Dr Rosarii Griffin

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Grandparents Day

The first time I came across the celebration of ‘Grandparents Day’ was in the school where my children attend, Midleton Gaelscoil. My mother was asked to come in and speak about what life was like when she was small, ‘fado, fado’! It also so happens that my mother attends ‘Conradh na Gaeilge’ to improve her spoken Irish, and so for that reason, she could converse with the children ‘as Gaelige’ on the theme of being a grandparent. For the children whose grandparents had already passed away, a photo of them was brought into the class so that they would be remembered and prayed for too. As luck would have it, my mother was the chosen ‘grandmother’ and another gentleman was the chosen ‘grandfather’. However, it transpired that this man recognised a photo of my Dad who had passed away in 2009. In fact, he had worked with him. It turned out to be a great day for my mother, as they enjoyed relaying stories about Dad’s work colleagues and other people they knew in common. That was a nice unexpected outcome to a celebration of ‘Grandparents’ Day’.

The Bad Old Days

As for the children, they enjoyed listening to the grandparents’ stories about ‘the olden and not so golden days’ of when children had to walk miles to school, often barefoot, to get a highly sought after education. The children listened intensely to a time when school classrooms had real fires to keep the students warm; a time when corporal punishment was permissible; a time when physical punishment was a common feature of school life. This was also a time when rote learning and the blackboards (chalk and talk) were common place, and religion was a central tenet of everyday school life. Teachers were to be feared, and parents did not pay any attention to their children’s fears about school. In fact, it was the opposite, if a child complained about a teacher or confessed to being slapped or beaten by the teacher in school, they could well face a similar fate at home for the misdeed hey committed, which was often quite mild. How times have changed! As a former teacher, I used to often think it was the parents who needed to listen to teachers - rather than their children - about what transpired in the classroom. Certain parents, had to be put back in their box when they came to the defence of their spoilt or cheeky child. It was easy to identify when the apple did not fall far from the tree! However, for the most part, I found parents to be supportive of teachers, and that modern day children were, by and large, well behaved and confident. And that makes all the difference in today’s child, when corporal punishment is a thing of the past, and where the old adage, ‘children should be seen and not heard’ is also very much a thing of the past. Sometimes though, regrettably!

Grandparents and their Grandchildren

It is true that there is a special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. Of course, the old expression that grandparents can spoil their grandchildren and then ‘hand them back’ is true, without having to deal with the aftermath of too many sweets or being spoilt. However, grandparents do have the luxury of having more time on their hands to spend quality time with their grandchildren, than their parents do. Parents often have busy schedules, with the demands of modern day life which can mean that both parents work in order to maintain a decent standard of living. It can be a luxury for a parent not to work outside the home (although that may not necessarily be the popular perception. ) In my experience, you have two types of grandparents: ‘Hands-on’ and ‘hands-off.’ The former can become very involved in the rearing of their grandchildren, often taking over the role of child-minder, especially if families are financially stretched. However, grandparents often volunteer and enjoy this extra time, (normally retirement time), to spend with the next generation, passing on their values, telling the children stories about when their parents were growing up, and generally spending time bonding with their children’s children.

The Special Place of Grandparents

Without a doubt, grandparents occupy a very special place in the lives of their grandchildren. I already recounted in an earlier article for this newspaper the impact of the effect of my father’s death on my two very young children who were only three and two years respectively at that time. Where had he, Granda Paudie, gone? They demanded to know as I tried to explain the concept of death in the simplest possible terms. Why couldn’t they see him anymore? Why wasn’t Granda Paudie coming back to see them? The questioning went on and on and on. They wanted to see him there and then. And I was bewildered with their crying and wailing, despite their young ages, his death had quite an impact on them. And yet he was, for the most part, a ‘hands-off’ Grandad. However he enjoyed spending quality time with his grandchildren, if somewhat limited! Maybe that made it all the more special!

Similarly, when the children’s paternal grandfather passed away in 2014, the children, then much older, were beside themselves. This time, they understood the concept of death, but that did not make the passing of their beloved Granda John (or ‘Ya Ya’ as they fondly knew him), any easier. He was very much a ‘hands-on’ Grandad, spending hours of quality time playing and interacting with them. He had patience beyond belief and enjoyed getting a smile or a laugh from the children. They adored him. Even I could not communicate with my children at the level he could. Thus, his passing was very painful for my children, particularly the eldest whom I suspect was one of his favourite, although he never appeared to have any favourites! Now, my children have two grannies remaining. Granny Frances, whom they visit at holiday time (for she lives in the West of Ireland), and Nana Carmel, (in Midleton) who is marvellous, and who rows in giving extra support when the need arises.

Grandparents are precious

So, in the world of the little ones, grandparents are very precious. Some people of course are not so lucky to have any grandparents when they were young, or at least, have no memories of them, as they would have passed on in their early years. As for me, three of my grandparents died before I was born, or soon thereafter. The only grandparent I have a living memory of is my maternal grandparent. Now, she was a powerful woman who had a lasting effect on me and my life.  She was tough, and didn’t suffer fools easily, and was very verbal. You had no doubt at any stage of what she thought, of how she felt, of what she would or would not do to you if you did not toe the line! But her heart was always in the right place. She had witness and lived through hard times. I think she felt the need to toughen us up for a life worth living.

My Titanic Grandmother

My grandmother was born in 1912, the year of the Titanic. During her life, she lived through two world wars, through depressions, rationings, and life was a struggle. Like most people who lived through the 1940s onwards, they would have seen unbelievable transformations and seminal moments in history including: the end of WW2 with the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima; Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jack Kennedy and the attempted assassination of the Pope; the formation of the EEC; the end of Communism with the Fall of the Berlin Wall; lived through the lifetime of approximately 6 Popes. Nana would have witnessed the proliferation of the motor-car, the availability of free and universal schooling at both primary and secondary level (therein effectively ending child labour). Although having lived through a heart attack, a stroke and cancer, she recovered each time and lived on until she reached the ripe old age of 94, pretty much compos mentis right until the very end when she finally just slipped away. But my granny was toughed-up through her life experiences. She was old school when it came to discipline. Old school when it came to telling me exactly what she thought of me or my actions, or even my friends. She was not afraid to speak her mind. She always loved a bargain, and bargained hard. To her, prices were always negotiable and loved to drive a hard bargain. An excellent business woman, she held no prisoners, and in truth, people were afraid, even terrified of her. She was titanic in nature, in stature and in personality. One did not cross my grandmother, or if one did, it was at one’s peril. A neighbour, who assisted in the care of my grandmother towards the end of her life, often regaled funny stories to me about Nana’s reactions to various people. Similarly, my neighour would coach me as to how my grandmother would react to a particular situation, if she were still around. I would just imagine it and laugh. Indeed, my Nana was a powerful force to be reckoned with, and whose love still lives with me today.

Grandparents Day.

So, if you are reading this, as a grandparent, know that you are valued by your children, and your children’s children. If you are a grandchild reading this, and are still lucky enough to have grandparents, treasure them, for their earthly lives are not eternal. And if you have children who do not have time to spend enough time with their grandparents, make time, because time is short, and lives are short, and all too soon, grandparents expire, the time is passed, never to be recuperated. Take time to build bonds between grandparents and children. These are bonds that will endure a lifetime. These are bonds like umbilical cords that transmit values, love and affection, taught through lived experience and historic events that make the past more real. In fact, grandparents are the stuff of positive memories and affection that can sustain a child throughout their lives. If you are lucky enough to be one such grandparent, take stock and take time to reconnect with those little ones, for it is through them that your life, love, affection and memory will live on. Contact: Rosarii at info@eastcorkjournal.ie or @rosarii_griffin

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