Becoming a grandparent is an important step in adult life. For many people it is a joyful one, opening up possibilities for the grandparents themselves, for the grandchildren and for the parents. Grandchildren provide a new focus for family relationships and can rekindle the kind of intimacy that might have got lost along the way – enriching lives across three generations.
Relationships beyond the immediate family (mother, father, sisters and brothers) can make a positive contribution to children’s emotional development and sense of themselves. An independent and developing relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is invaluable for everybody.
This leaflet will explore the ways that grandparents in all kinds of families can make a difference to children’s lives and what a ‘grandparental’ relationship means.
Different kinds of families
No single type of family dictates which relationships within it are important for children. A number of people may take a personal interest in a particular child and share a concern for them.
In today’s multicultural Britain, children grow up within an enormously varied range of family situations. Some children live as part of an extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles. In many communities this is the normal pattern of family life.
Although children of parents who divorce and remarry may lose contact with ‘blood’ grandparents, they often have relationships with an extended family of step-brothers and sisters, step-parents and step-grandparents.
In some families – especially if the grandparents are no longer alive or are not in close contact – an uncle or aunt, godparent or friend may take on a ‘grandparental’ role.
An innovative scheme in South London provides local families with ‘surrogate’ grandparents who share the ethnic background of absent grandparents. Young and old alike have benefited. Children have been able to experience the care and interest of a grandparent and to find out more about their own cultural roots. Children can build on their own sense of identity – which is an important aspect of self-esteem – in this way.
Becoming a grandparent
Like significant rites of passage at every stage of life – starting school, leaving home, becoming a parent – becoming a grandparent presents an exciting opportunity to grow and change, and to experience a very special relationship. Many grandparents describe the sheer pleasure of spending time with their grandchildren without being burdened by the responsibilities of being a parent.
Many of today’s grandparents are young and have active working and social lives of their own. Nevertheless, becoming a grandparent provides a direct link to a whole new world and the opportunity to stay in touch with another generation and new ideas. Grandparents can find out at first hand about current childcare methods, new toys and games, books, children’s interests and hobbies, education and popular music.
The positive sides of the experience can be very far-reaching. Having grandchildren can give grandparents a sense of continuity and reassurance that life goes on. Their life can have added meaning and purpose, giving them a renewed confidence in their usefulness and value.
A second chance
Perhaps the most important part of being a grandparent is having a second chance. Through the relationship with their grandchildren, grandparents can try and do better some of the things they felt less happy about as parents. And they can do again, or strengthen, what went well the first time round.
Not only can they form new relationships with their grandchildren, they can also repair and rework the old ones – with their children.
- A grandfather may now have a go at being a ‘new man’, with a hands-on experience of looking after little children. This may not have been possible when he was a busy young father, nor have been socially or culturally acceptable at that time.
- A grandmother may be aware of how her over-involvement with her daughter caused difficulties, but now has a chance to have a more separate relationship with her granddaughter.
Being a grandparent today
Almost all grandparents are in contact with their grandchildren. But, whatever the overall trend, there cannot be any hard and fast rules. Where there has been a separation or divorce within the family, grandparents may lose touch or be prevented from having contact with their own grandchildren. At the same time, they may find that they acquire some unfamiliar step- grandchildren.
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