The important roles grandparents play

One big advantage of having grandparents being actively involved in children's lives is passing on a sense of belonging to the young ones, experts say. —TODAY pic
One big advantage of having grandparents being actively involved in children's lives is passing on a sense of belonging to the young ones, experts say. —TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, Oct 9 — Grandparents are often looked upon as convenient childcare providers as both parents tend to work full-time in modern day Singapore. But the role of grandparent goes beyond just taking care of children while mum and dad are at work or away. Experts believe that having grandparents involved in children’s lives bring a host of benefits. One big advantage is passing on a sense of belonging to the young ones.

Jessica Lamb, a psychotherapist and mediator at Relationship Matters, revealed that spending time with grandparents enhances a child’s sense of identity and belonging, as they feel more connected to them and part of a bigger extended family. They may also recognise family traits and shared interests, which helps to build a sense of identity, acceptance and self-confidence.

“It can also give children the opportunity to know their own parents in a different way, through the eyes of their grandparents,” she added. “They see their parents as people, a son, a daughter or a child themselves, so a deeper understanding develops.”

Grandparents reminiscing about the ‘good old days’ also helps kids — and even adolescents and adults — to learn about their own family and unique traditions, said Faith Hogan, founder and counsellor, Mindwise Counselling and Training.

“Also, via storytelling and role-modelling, they can teach grandchildren healthy values and social norms like respect, kindness or patience. Grandparents can also pass on practical skills which busy parents may not have the time to impart,” said Hogan.

She explained that the way grandparents interact with children is different as they may be less burdened with the daily grind of work and the pressures of child rearing, so they are usually able to take their time to play or connect. This is especially beneficial for younger children as they are provided with the affection and attention they might not be able to obtain from parents who are time-stretched or otherwise constrained for various reasons.

Strictly parental duties

Also, as grandparents are trusted figures but may not have a stern parental role, this allows grandchildren to treat them as confidants when they don’t want to turn to their parents.

Digital lead Melvin Kee, 38, is a dad to two children aged nine and 12. He admitted that his children get spoilt by their grandparents, “which is a good thing as everybody needs an extra dose of love and affection sometimes”.

“They do different things and have different experiences with their grandparents that we don’t do with them. My mum teaches them to bake and sew, while my dad tells them stories from his kampong days,” he said.

Accountant Rosie Liew, 42, is thankful that her parents and in-laws take turns babysitting her three children aged seven to 10 after school as it gives her peace of mind that they are in good hands while she and her husband are at work.

“They have so much of affection for their grandparents and learn a lot from them. We love that they are exposed to much more than just me and my husband’s worlds,” she said.

While there are many advantages of grandparents being involved in children’s lives, there are, however, certain duties that should only be taken on by parents.

“It’s important that parents are the ones creating routine and structure for their children and that grandparents support them by respecting and upholding them,” Lamb urged. “Setting bedtime routines, providing regular healthy meals, monitoring homework and activity timetables and liaising with school are all the responsibility of parents.

“Discipline is also an area that should be led by parents,” she added. “People have very different and personal views on how to appropriately discipline children so this is something that should be worked out and agreed by parents and respected by those caring for the children.”

Don’t interfere, please

Respecting these rules is also important in maintaining good relationships between all parties. Hogan explained that undermining parents’ rules for children can hurt relationships at home as grandparents may think they are doing favours for the grandchild with harmless fun, but what they’re actually doing is teaching grandchildren not to take their parents’ rules seriously.

For example, doing things like allowing grandchildren to go to sleep much later or spoiling them with many treats could frustrate parents and injure trust.

But these standards are not always met and there will be occasions when adults might feel that their own parents are interfering in their child-rearing. The key here is to face the situation head-on, rather than seethe with fury and hurt your relationship.

In such situations, Lamb stressed the importance of making time to talk about it in a way that shows appreciation for the support given by grandparents, in a non-judgmental and non-blaming manner, is specific rather than general, and shows ownership of feelings and needs expressed.

Getting defensive is a no-no, and the children should not be privy to this conversation or get stuck in the middle. Hogan advised to let grandparents know their help and experience is appreciated and valued, and noted that it should be “a calm conversation and not an emotional confrontation”.

“Grandparents can take great joy in showing their love to grandchildren so if it is not harmful, give them a little flexibility to do so,” she added. — TODAY

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