I heard a simple quote years ago, but back then didn’t understand the meaning. I had to look it up to check.
Initially, I thought I remembered Groucho Marx, who said, “The best reason to have children is in order to have grandchildren.” But nope, it seems to have been Gore Vidal, who wrote, “Never have children – just grandchildren!”
And Lois Wyse, a prolific American author, wrote, “If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I’d have had them first!”
If you’re a grandmother, you probably really ‘get’ these quotes.
When you have grandchildren, especially if you see them fairly frequently, you are likely to develop a special bond with them. Not inevitably, but it is a very common experience.
And you may begin to wonder why being a grandmother is so much easier and fun than it ever was being a mother.
I think there are a lot of answers.
Grandmothers themselves often comment on how nice it is to have children around, but how good it is to be able to hand them back at the end of a long day.
Yes, hooray to that. Long days with small children are tiring at any age, but especially as we grow older. All you want is to lie down or take a bath or pour yourself a glass of wine. Perhaps all three.
But, as frequent an explanation this is, I don’t really think it is the main story.
Others say that the real reason grandchildren are so enjoyable is that you can spoil them – give them that extra piece of cake or let them do what they want a bit longer.
You would never have done that for your own children, because you felt responsible for giving them the right attitudes and self-discipline.
And, indeed, discipline is the other side of the coin. You were always on the alert to teach your children, whether the consequences of their actions or thoughtfulness or even just good manners and much more. If they did not behave as you thought they should, it was down to you to set it right.
As grandparents, we don’t feel this need so strongly. Some of us may want to teach good values and attitudes to our grandchildren, but we know it is not our responsibility. We may well try to fit in with the values of the parents, but for the most part we can relax.
I do think this may be part of the explanation, but again not the whole of the story.
Yes, we are certainly older and like to feel that we are wiser. And we probably are. Because we are often retired, we are not so beset with other demands, such as work to be done in the house or elsewhere. We can relax.
And, of course, if you are relaxed, you can stop and enjoy children to the fullest. Some of us did so the first time around with our children, but many of us did not succeed. I know I didn’t.
So, what is going on?
I think grandparenting is a very complex ‘virtuous circle’ that improves over time (i.e., the opposite of a ‘vicious circle’, where things go wrong and get worse).
In the early days, grandparents are usually excited to have a baby or small children in the house again. They are often more relaxed anyway, being older and under fewer pressures, and want to please the grandchildren in any way they can.
In addition, it is not uncommon for grandparents – either consciously or unconsciously – to want to ‘make up’ for their faults as parents. They may have been too sharp with their own children or too quick to judge them and now is the chance to do it all better.
At the same time, the grandchildren come to the grandparents with their good manners (we instinctively know we should behave at our best in other people’s houses). They sense the love and the welcome.
This makes for a great start. Both want to please the other, while both feel the other is ‘special’ because they are family. And because both sides are so easy and comfortable with each other, it just carries on that way, strengthened further by the presence of love.
They see us at our best and we see them at their best. What could be better?
And there is little or none of the tensions that can quickly develop when things are going wrong at home, whether between the parents or, indeed, between them and the children.
As the children grow and develop, they bring their new accomplishments to the grandparents with great pride. And we grandparents respond accordingly. A natural bond is readily sealed by all this love and time.
Even when – or perhaps I should say ‘especially when’ – the grandchildren become teenagers and tend to rebel against their parents, our house can be a place of calm. They have no wish to rebel against us.
Of course, relationships will be different where you see the grandchildren infrequently, for there is so much less time for this bond to develop.
It will also be different where grandparents are raising their grandchildren full time, for instance, due to sickness, divorce or other problems in the middle generation.
Here, grandparents are acting in the role of parents and lack the opportunity to be grandparents in the way described.
I have frequently heard my children commenting, “My goodness, he behaves so differently in your house,” or, “I wish he would act like this at home.” We smile and feel innocent, and they wonder how we do it.
And long may it last.
What is your relationship with your grandchildren? Do you find it easier to look after your grandchildren, compared with your own children? Why do you feel this is?