Have you noticed that something very wonderful is happening to men? Perhaps not all men in every circumstance, but certainly with respect to children in their family. They are becoming so very much more involved. It is a joy to behold.
In our day, it was the rare father who would carry a baby around, do the school run or otherwise take a real part in day-to-day childcare. Of course, they would help out now and then by taking the children to another kid’s birthday party or reading a bedtime story. But they were not truly involved in the everyday business of childcare.
They argued that they were too busy or could not get time off work. Or, by the very old-fashioned, that most activities involving children were “women’s work.”
Nowadays, in contrast, you commonly see men on the street with a baby sling or pushing a stroller (‘pushchair’ in England) or, indeed, at the school gates. Fathers come home from work to get the children to bed. You see them at school plays. It is a very different scene.
I haven’t seen any data on the subject, so I can only speak anecdotally, but all my friends comment on it. Whether it is their son or their son-in-law, grandmothers notice how much the man plays his part. Mothers may not even be so aware of the enormous change, as they only see what is happening now – not what used to happen in our day.
Is this development because mothers are pressing harder for more paternal involvement and fathers can find fewer excuses with real bite? Or have fathers discovered that it is actually a lot of fun to engage with their children? Or perhaps a bit of both? I suspect also that the more fathers are seen to be actively involved, the more normal it becomes and the easier it is for the pattern to continue.
The same kind of thing also seems to be happening to grandfathers. As discussed in my book, Celebrating Grandmothers, they want to play on the floor with their grandchildren. They want to tell them stories and in all kinds of ways want to be much more involved in their lives. Yes, there were always some who were highly active in any case, but the tradition was that it was the grandmother – along with the mother – who did the heavy lifting.
Some are the children’s favourite. We grandmothers have to grin and bear it. When I collect my young grandson for a visit, his first question, almost invariably, is “Will Grand-Dad be at home when we get there?”
Just as some grandmothers are providing a lot of day-to-day childcare for their grandchildren, so too are grandfathers. I have a friend who takes his grandson to school every day, collects him in the afternoon and makes his dinner, as the parents tend to work long hours. And he doesn’t even live near by. It is hard work day after day, but the result is a very close relationship.
Are these grandfathers making up for lost time? Some may feel they did not give their children enough attention when they were young and this is a way of making amends. Some simply have much more time now – and the lack of driving ambition – to put their energies to these tasks. And some, like grandmothers, have found that they get a great deal of fulfilment from their role. Perhaps they like the opportunity to give an outing to their softer side.
Of course, many grandfathers have been lost along the way. Some divorced the mother of the grandchildren a long time ago and had less and less to do with the family from an early stage. Others divorced more recently, but still choose to keep out of the way. Some grandmothers engage in considerable efforts to bring the stray grandfather back into the fold. My own view is that they will find it very worthwhile.
Whatever the reasons for these developments, we should celebrate them. It suggests greater respect is being given to the important task of bringing up the next generation. And, while families undoubtedly differ hugely in these respects, the children are surely benefitting from the real involvement of more people in their lives.
Is your son or son-in-law an active father? How involved are the grandfathers in your family? Please leave your comments below and share your experiences.