Vandana Kanoria examines the symbiotic benefits of having grandchildren, even as she revels in the pure joy of their presence
“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild,” an Irish proverb.
No one prepared me for just how much love I would have for my grandchildren. They come as little bundles of joy wrapped in pink or blue swaddling clothes – you hold them and your heart melts. The little fingers that clasp yours, soon become arms that squeeze you around the neck and you want to hold them, protect them, and never let them grow up.
Close grandparent-grandchild relationships are often a marker of strong family ties, but these intergenerational bonds come with their own distinctive benefits. “It’s the only relationship in which people are crazy about one another simply because they’re breathing,” says Dr Arthur Kornhaber, President of the Foundation for Grandparenting.
He says that grandchildren and their grandparents usually “have an adoration and unconditional love and joy in one another’s existence.”
Twentyfirst-century grandparents are more about running shoes and less about rocking chairs, more about Twitter and Instagram and less about bhajan mandalis (although that can be fun activity with young grandkids). But no matter how hip, cool and trendy a grandparent is, they are that person in a child’s life who delights in their existence and loves them unconditionally.
For grandparents, relationships with grandchildren provide connection with a much younger generation and exposure to different ideas, which might otherwise be limited. With internet and pop culture moving at the speed of sound, grandkids make sure that you don’t fall too far behind the times. In fact all my navigation skills on the internet highway are courtesy my 12-year-old granddaughter who makes sure I don’t lose my way in the jungle of technology, and remember how to use all the funny photo apps. This unique bond can be life changing—an adrenaline boost that restores energy, optimism, and youthfulness. Recent studies also show that emotional closeness between grandparents and grandchildren can protect seniors against depression, boost brain function and lead to a longer life. The desire to be present as a child grows has encouraged many grandparents to remain active, educate themselves on important issues to children, and fiercely protect their own health.
Suitcase of feelings
Twilight years arrive with a suitcase packed with feelings of helplessness – new physical limitations, struggles with changing roles at work, in personal lives, and feelings of not being needed in ways they once were, all leading to a diminishing sense of self. But having grandchildren gives people a new sense of joyous responsibility.
For grandkids, grandparents can offer life wisdom that becomes a buffer against the unexpected twists and turns life takes. The biggest gift of this all-important bond is the endless supply of love, acceptance, patience and unwavering support. A grandparent’s love is a safe harbour — helping a child feel secure, especially when buffeted by storms of confusion and stress. Because they are free from doling out discipline, grandparents hold a unique position. They can listen to their grandchildren without judgment, criticism or without having to lay down the law. This extra layer of support can have lasting positive effects on the child’s emotional well-being. Susan Bosak, the author of How To Build The Grandma Connection, says that children who have strong ties with involved, caring grandparents develop higher self-esteem, better emotional stability, stronger social skills, an ability to withstand peer pressure and enhanced academic performance. Research from the University of Oxford found that those who had a strong relationship with their grandparents had fewer emotional and behavioural problems than those without. And this support lasts throughout the turbulent teenage years. While my four grandchildren are still not teenagers, a little tiff with parents sends them straight to that refuge called Nani House. To avoid their parents’ admonitions and disciplinarian actions, my two grandsons know that Amma and Dadu are that impenetrable fortress that even the strongest and bravest parent cannot breach.
Because grandparents were practically made to break the rules. There’s a fine line between loving and spoiling. And I’m sure we grandparents have crossed that line more than once. Our love does not recognize bedtimes or curfews and agrees dinner can be cookies and aloo chips. Sleeping with grandparents can be an adventure – for both generations. Midnight feasts with chocolates, silly games, making sheet and pillow ‘fortress” and staying up late to enjoy all this, is quite the norm for my grandchildren. For me, the adventure lies in trying to understand the strange gravity defying law, that involves various limbs in my face during the course of the night, no matter where and how the little ones are sleeping.
Joys of not-parenting
And we come, bearing lots of presents, treats (to the despair of parents) and reams of stories. Although my journeys into storyland has not been the picture perfect one with me sitting, holding a book and my grandchildren around me peacefully listening to enchanting stories. Instead, the younger ones hurl themselves at me with hard cardboard books, each demanding his book be read first; the older grandson remembers every word of my made-up stories and interrupts me every time I get a detail wrong. My granddaughter, when she was younger, instructed me in a very firm and no-nonsense way, when I tried to tell her stories of Krishna, “Nani no god stories please. I only want to hear stories about Mamu’s badmashi ka stories, when he was young.” And after a couple of months of hearing Mamu’s pranks that he performed with his superhero friend Gopal in a superhero land called Vrindavan she told me in a world-weary voice, “I know you have been telling me god stories about Krishna, but I let you….”
For us, grandparents the biggest rewards and joy is not playing parent. One of the advantages of age, never mind the creaking knees and a little deafness, is that we aren’t really expected to deal with them at their challenging worst, nor required to function as disciplinarians. We can simply pick them up, take them as far away as possible from mums and dads, and smother them with unlimited cuddles and kisses. Having completed the arduous and super-responsible job of childrearing, we are in a far better position to simply sit back and enjoy all the things that children say and do that make them so lovable: their refreshing innocence, playfulness, endless sense of wonder and curiosity and novel ways of expressing them.
Two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent. There is no doubt that it is an amazing feeling when you become a grandparent, especially for the first time and knowing that you are going to play such an important part in your grandchild’s life. Your heart melts when they look at you with those sparkling eyes and grin. When you hear their little voice or spend time playing together, watch them take their first steps, every other so-called urgent and important tasks are forgotten. You become silly with them, a child again, as you can once again play with abandon and enjoy mindless games and activities, revelling in a joy that only comes when you are a grandparent, knowing how fleeting and precious is the time with them and that you can never take it for granted; the simple, magical moments together, suffuse your lives with magic and colour and is heaven’s way of showering blessings on both.