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The importance of grandparents

The task of bringing up children was never supposed to be restricted only to parents. While the entire community met physical, social and spiritual needs of children, elders inculcated correct values. This has changed today. Family values are no longer passed down like before. With the marginalisation of elders, their powers and responsibilities have been taken away. At times, children are even taught to resent the presence of elders. Cities and towns have changed from communities to groups of individual families.

It is inevitable that every generation will change. Constant influence of media and increased mobility have changed life drastically over the past two generations. So how should we respond when our grandchildren develop a different approach to right and wrong?

During our youth, we too resented lectures on morality as intrusions. Indeed, unsolicited moral advice is one of the greatest divisors between children and grandparents. Though it is difficult not to give advice when we see our grandchildren make poor decisions, it is better to remain silent. Instead, an assurance of our availability, as listener or refuge, will encourage them to seek advice regarding problems like drugs, alcohol and premarital sex without hesitation. Instead of meaningless opposition and disapproval, conveying love will obtain better results. It is surprising how rebellious young grandchildren mature with time and patience.

Growing children often ask many questions. But instead of providing them wisdom, we teach what we know and believe in. Wisdom is different from knowledge, and it is critical thinking, problem solving and logical interpretation that will develop their abilities rather than our memories. Encouraging them to read, we can discuss the lives and deeds of great people. Inculcating the concepts of awareness, honesty and responsibility, we should teach them to thrive on love, not fear.

We frequently try to make children attain what we could not, irrespective of capability or desire. Instead of demanding blind conformity, we should appreciate differences and encourage them to think differently as long as it is not harmful or dangerous. Children resent criticism, even if it is constructive. Sometimes the sting of harsh criticism from parents can be soothed by us grandparents - but only to a limit.

Being a good listener is a step in the right direction. Rather than doing all the talking, conversations can be steered to topics of their interest. Finding common ground, we can establish a rapport - discussing movies, favourite classes, friends. Instead of lecturing about their behaviour or dictating terms, we should treat them as adults.

Grandchildren provide us an opportunity to do all the things we missed out on with our children. When our children were young, we were too busy working to feed, clothe and give them a home. We spent a lot of time away from them, sometimes having neither time nor energy to express our love properly. Many of us are now in a position to 'spoil' our grandchildren with things we couldn't afford for our children.

As grandparents, we walk a fine line between our grandchildren and children. Probably because we don't see our grandchildren often, we let them get away with many things. If they live nearby, we enjoy their company, and when we need a break, we send them back home. Even when they live with us, discipline is still their parents' job. Hence we can indulge them, but we should not interfere with the methods our children choose to raise their children.

- Gp Capt A B Mehta (Retd), Bhopal