The Enduring Importance of Grandparents

We’ve just been on a writing weekend at Scargill in the Yorkshire Dales, where we  re-met many friends.

Scargill House, Wharfedale

Our hosts and leaders,  Adrian and Bridget, are brilliant, full of fun, and steeped in wisdom. In fact, they seem like  everyone’s favourite wise, funny, positive, uncle and auntie—or, … like grandparents. Listening. Encouraging. Moving in the group sessions through the laughs to the sadnesses and back—giving out warm feelings.

An experience which, if we are blessed, we get from grandparents—who are there to care and who, when we have tired them out with caring, ‘give us back’ to our sterner, always more harassed, parents.

Answering a universal human need

This got me thinking: Grandparents have homes are full of  ‘old fashioned’ objects: the year we lived with my paternal grandparents, Grandma was still using a flat-iron, heating it on the coal-fired boiler. They have time, skills, and interesting stories of ‘long ago’.  Their childhoods, in another age, are intriguing. Milk coming round in a churn, on a cart? (Goes back a long way, that one: to my ‘other Granny’!) Ideas to stimulate an interest in social history.  

One of my grandfathers kept prisms on the windowsill in his study: I remember  him showing

Henry Howard Hammond, my maternal grandfather, with his telescope

me how the prisms divided light into rainbow colours.  An introduction to science. 

He also painted pelicans on the garden wall - long before I knew him! An introduction to creative impulses, and art!
He also painted pelicans on the garden wall – long before I knew him! An introduction to creative impulses, and art!
Raised by Grandparents

I can count many friends who’ve been almost or totally raised by grandparents: some whose Mum has been unable to mother for some reason, and Grandma has lived in and been the main carer. Others whose grandparents have lived until the grandchildren are grown and gone from home: the grief of these adult friends when the grandparents die is a poignant reminder of the enormous emotional importance of the grandparent/grandchild bond.

Worldwide, grandparents, especially grandmothers, are carers. Tradition seems to dictate that those who can no longer bear babies care for babies … and for older children. In many places,  grandmothers care full-time, while mothers work.

And since HIV/AIDS has orphaned thousands of children, grandparents in many countries must care full-time, often for the children of more than one family.

Here in Britain,  grandparents are the daily carers for (find percentage) of children, often chosen in preference to child-minders, or nurseries.

If  families break up, or parents can’t cope, grandparents may find themselves starting over again as full-time, possibly legal, parents.

‘Pensioners’ or vital resources?

In our area, all houses were recently delivered booklets on resources for the elderly: from ‘Over-50’s Yoga’ to (a particularly unpleasant thought) a ‘Dementia Cafe’ for Alzheimers sufferers and their carers …These leaflets, though useful to some residents, were a little scary …

A Foden ancestor with her grandparents – a very old family photo!

Clearly the concept of ‘pensioners’ needs updating: some are making a contribution as worthwhile and lively (and vital to the ‘economy’) than any other workers.

A final thought

Grandparents may belong to a ‘bygone age’—but strangely, their ideas, attitudes and behaviour seems to appeal and endear them to kids! They  are not mere spent grey-heads …Perhaps we should begin to take their views on society more seriously?

Fun, and wisdom, garnered as a harvest from many years’ experience.

In my novels, the grandparents, pulling in opposite directions, play important roles … no surprise! 

The Mullins Family novels: Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, an on-going tale ...
The Mullins Family novels: Baby, Baby and The Labyrinth Year, an on-going tale …

(All photos copyright Mari Howard/family collection: please don’t reproduce without permission!)