Grandparents can play a magical role in the lives of their grandchildren. When I was at my grandparents’ house, the outside world seemed to melt away.
Troublesome friendships, unfinished schoolwork, sibling rivalries… all my troubles faded the moment I was enveloped in the arms of my grandmother, with her distinct talcum-powdery scent.
My grandfather - ever at the ready with Cadbury chocolate, cans of forbidden soft drink and mischief - would load us precariously on the back of his tractor and treat us to a bone-rattling thrill ride around the farm.
I remember being treated to unapproved breakfasts my parents would have had conniptions over - warm Special K cereal laced with spoonfuls of powdered chocolate, followed by a cup of coffee.
After lunch we sat on the sofa and watched Days of Our Lives together, and in the evening I curled up with my grandmother in her bed and slept deeply and soundly knowing I was very safe.
Grandparents play varied and enormously important roles in the fabric of our society, as vital caregivers or simply as purveyors of fun times. Our Generation talked to four different types of grandparents to get their take on ‘grandparenting’ in 2020 and how their relationship with their grandchildren enriches their lives.
Hans and his wife Elizabeth have been married 53 years, and have two beautiful grandchildren who they see regularly.
“Lifelong learning, curiosity and acquisition of new skills are very important to me and I try to enthuse my 10-year-old granddaughter and eight-year-old grandson with a desire to seize opportunities, learn about the world and develop hobbies and skills,” Hans says.
“We try to be there for them and to show that they are loved by a wider group than solely their wonderful parents. This means providing childcare and transport before and after school as often as needed, which can in some cases be several days a week. It also involves trying to spend quality time by opening their eyes to a world of nature, the arts, technology, consideration towards others and many incidentals.
“We have the perspectives of older people, which can be a lesson in different world views. Our granddaughter is quite aware that we are from ‘the olden days’ but I am not sure about how the younger one regards our advanced years. The 10-year-old and I are trying to solve the tasks of a marbles powered computer called Turing Tumble. I have also been giving my granddaughter weekly sewing lessons and she is very keen to learn this creative and practical skill.”
With their bright and bubbly grandson having some special needs, Hans says he and his wife enjoy contributing to his achievements, which were never guaranteed.
“There have been a lot of emotions such as helplessness, fears for the future and concern but also many positive feelings of love, pride, hope, cautious optimism as milestones were reached–later than others the same age. We have tried to support and be available during times of crisis. Parents of special needs children are often overburdened and overwhelmed,” Hans explains.
The couple balances their duties as doting grandparents with Hans’ disability of being unable to take any food or liquid through his mouth as it would end up in his lungs.
“The family is used to working around my intrusive daily feeding schedule and we have enjoyed some wonderful multigenerational holidays such as cruising, farm stays and beach adventures.”
Hans says it’s touching to see his grandchildren display the same care and concern for him that he and his wife have for them.
“These two little people display a touching concern for my disability and try to assist me with tube feeding. On the rare occasions I have been hospitalised, they have shown concern and love. They are very special and dear to me, the riches in my life and I am very fortunate indeed.”
We have six grandchildren. Our close bond with our two daughters allows us to continue to nurture and dearly love our second lot of kids. We are so fortunate to be able to ‘parent’ the second time around and the trade-off is secure babysitting when the need arises.
– KayeOur members on grandparenting
With her French-Italian background, family is everything to Maria and her husband Lorenzo. They have two children, a son and daughter, and four grandchildren – two boys and two girls.
“I see my grandchildren every week. I take my grandsons to school and pick them up in the afternoons two days a week and I see my granddaughters on weekends,” she says.
“We live very close and like to be together. I wasn’t very close with my own grandmother when I was growing up in France. She wasn’t very nice to us and so I always wished I had a warm, caring grandmother. I think that made me very determined to be close with my children and my grandkids.
“Being there for my children and their children really gives me so much joy. It gives me a purpose in life and I just love seeing them. And I think they feel pretty much the same way about my husband and me.
They always ask, ‘can we go see Mémé and Nonno?’ I just love them so much, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.” Being retired, Maria says helping her children out with school pickup and babysitting is important.
“My children work so hard and childcare is so expensive. I went back to work when both my children were young and my mother-in-law agreed to look after them as long as I could drop them off early in the morning. It was a real struggle getting them up and out of bed on cold mornings, drive them across town to her, and then get myself to work on time.
“Because of this I have always insisted on picking the boys up from my daughter’s house so she doesn’t have to drive them to me. I make sure they have something to eat and I sometimes make dinner for my daughter so she doesn’t have to cook when she gets home from work.”
Maria and Lorenzo love to spend time with their family on weekends too.
“We often have everyone over for lunch and sit outside and watch the grandchildren play together. They are very close in age so they get on really well. The kids are always joking around with my husband. We like to play cards with the kids and Nonno always cheats. He really winds them up and the kids have so much fun,” Maria says.
“We are really proud of how polite, respectful and loving our grandchildren are. We think our children have done a great job raising them. For Lorenzo and I, sitting back and watching them together really is our greatest joy in life.”
I have three gorgeous grandsons and they have been a huge part of my life. My son and daughter in-law are separated, and she now refuses to allow me to see them. I don’t know how to deal with that but am trying my best to hold it together.
– LyndellOur members on grandparenting
Krystine and her husband Norm are not yet retired from the business they own but enjoy sharing their idyllic coastal lifestyle with their three children and six grandchildren when time permits.
“All the grandkids have very different personalities,” Krystine explains.
“The eldest is 13 and the youngest has just turned two. The eldest is a bit like the Pied Piper for the younger kids––they follow him around everywhere. And they all get on amazingly well, which is lovely.”
"I love getting them in the kitchen, cooking up a storm. We grow herbs and veggies, and the kids love getting in the kitchen and incorporating these fresh ingredients into meals.
“Christmas is a really special time for our family. We all get together at Rainbow Beach and help prepare a big lunch. It’s the kids’ job to set the table and they love doing it.”
Krystine says her own grandparents have definitely played a part in influencing the type of grandparent she wanted to become.
“My grandparents had a farm––a place I remember as being cosy and safe.
“I was very close to my grandfather, who was so kind and always had time for me. I remember his kindness in particular and this has always been something I’ve wanted to emulate with my own grandkids.
“One of my grandchildren has difficulties at school and I was discussing this on the phone with my daughter. I said to her, ‘It’s so strange because I never have any problems with him here.’ She said, ‘Because you’re his safety. He feels safe with you at your place.’
“That really struck me because I remember feeling the exact same way when I was at my grandparents’ farm. My Nan had a wood stove she would cook on and I remember feeling so safe and secure in that little kitchen with all the baking smells.”
This legacy has come full circle for Krystine, who is famous for making her special ‘parfait’ for the grandkids when they visit.
“It’s just fruit and yoghurt layered in some fancy glassware and I cut strawberries into little roses for the top,” she laughs.
“Their parents think it’s absolutely hilarious but the grandkids absolutely love it and they think it’s so special.”
Asked what makes her most proud about her relationship with her grandchildren, Krystine says, “Just the fact that they want to spend time with us. If their parents are going away for the weekend, the grandkids always say, ‘We want Nanny to look after us.’ I think it’s really special that we have been able to create an environment and a relationship where they want to spend time with us.”
I mind my granddaughters a few afternoons a week after school until their mum finishes work. I have been the major caregiver since both of them were born whilst their parents worked. I am 66 and I do get tired, but I would not have missed this experience for anything. I love the memories we are making.
– WendyOur members on grandparenting
Many grandparents are feeling the effects of being separated from their grandchildren, whether by distance or through forced isolation due to the pandemic.
Sydney-based retirement coach Jon Glass has written a book called The Long-Distance Grandfather (available in paperback or for Kindle via Amazon) based on his own experience of having his two grandchildren living in Portugal.
“I have a son who lives in Portugal with my two eldest grandchildren, aged five and eight, and a daughter in Sydney who just recently had a baby,” Jon explains.
“So in addition to being the long-distance grandfather, I’m also the short-distance grandfather now, which is great,” he laughs. Jon does visit his grandkids in Portugal, giving them those all-important cuddles, but for the most part uses video-calling via FaceTime to keep in touch.
“Being a grandparent gives me a sense of who I am on the family ladder,” Jon says of being a grandfather.
“My grandfathers died when I was quite young, yet I do have some strong memories of them. I see myself as a grandfather who’s still around, and I’d certainly like to be around for a few more years. And hopefully I can teach them some things and learn from them as well.”
While Jon says he’d certainly prefer to have all three of his grandchildren in close proximity, he says the distance does mean he pushes himself to make their moments together extra special. “You can think a bit more about what you want to talk to them about when you do have that interaction,” Jon explains.
“I used to do a bit of letter writing to them, but now we mostly use the computer and iPad to communicate. We are so fortunate to have such amazing, instantaneous technology at our fingertips. We use FaceTime to chat and it allows me to tell them stories as well as help them with their homework.
“The only drawback with video-calling is that when the grandkids learn to press the button to ring you, they think you are magically there all the time to accept their call, regardless of the time of day or whether you are in a meeting,” Jon laughs.
“The other thing is what I call the steady hand theory, which kids tend to get better at with age, meaning if you’re going to talk to someone on a tablet you need to put it on a table or a flat surface so it’s steady. Otherwise it’s quite disorienting for the person watching.”
Asked what he does to keep the grandparent grandchild bond strong, Jon says he enjoys self-publishing books especially for his grandchildren.
“Receiving a photo of them holding a book I have written for them is just so special and memorable,” he says.
These days there are some great options for doting grandparents who want to send personalised gifts to their grandchildren, Jon says, whether it be making photobooks to keep memories alive or shopping online and having presents delivered direct to their door. But sometimes it’s the little things that matter most.
“My granddaughter has worked out how to SMS me voice memos, so sometimes I wake up to a voice message from her where she tells me a knock-knock joke, and I do the same for her,” Jon says.
I have four grown up grandchildren and four great grandchildren. I was privileged to take care of my eldest great grandson from six months old when his mum went back to work. Saw him through day care a couple of days, then kindy and now school. He is nine years old this month and I still pick him up two days a week from school. We have so many photos and memories of our time and places together. I also buy the little cards without verses and write in comments and they are in his memory box to read when I am no longer here. Love him so much.
– CherylOur members on grandparenting