Being a grandparent is child’s play for most, a time to pass on old-fashioned skills.
Annabel Sharkey says being Francesca’s grandmother is a joy. ‘I feel very lucky.’
There’s a reason they decided to call you grandparents. It's because it’s, as the Irish would say, a ‘grand’ thing to be.
Some grandparents may argue there’s a little ‘grind’ in there, too – especially those who take on the role of full-time child carers – but, in the main, grandparenting is one of the great joys in life.
It’s a chance to help nurture a new generation, build on the family bonds you created as parents and share new experiences you may not have otherwise have had. And, just for good measure, sometimes the grandkids teach you a thing or two (especially in this digital age).
Annabel Sharkey believes grandparenting is an important, but undervalued, role in modern society – and one that she finds deeply enriching.
Talking about grandparenting like this is a wonderful chance to promote the value of grandparents, she says.
It’s like motherhood in many ways – both are undervalued roles that are even more important than ever because they provide stability for grandkids in a world that seems increasingly unstable.
I don’t think there are any negatives about grandparenting. For me it’s a joy. I don’t meet many grandparents who aren’t fulfilled by their experiences with their grandchildren.
Eve and Lynton Brewer are highly involved with their nine grandchildren, aged between two and 15, which keeps them very busy.
All our grandkids are a lot of fun and they always were, Eve says.
We started off with the eldest, Sam, who is now 15. We did a lot of babysitting when his mum went back to work. He was in kindergarten when we looked after him, which was once a week on average.
Now that we are in our 80s we don’t look after the youngest ones so much, who are aged two, five and six. Only when their parents want to go out. It’s so wonderful when you arrive and these three little blondies rush up the passage to give you big cuddles.
I'm currently teaching 11 year-old Natalie to knit a scarf. I think it's important to pass on old-fashioned skills that modern day parents don’t have the time to do because they are so flat out. Grandparents can spend the time.
It's important for them to do these kinds of things, especially with digital technology so prevalent.
Eve believes grandparents can also act as a valuable sounding board for their grandchildren, particularly in tough times.
It's important that children be comfortable expressing themselves with an older person – just naturally, without feeling constrained. We've always made a point of giving them affection and talking to them with respect – as equals – to maintain a close connection with them.
We hope that later on if they ever had a difficulty they would feel comfortable coming to us. We want to make them feel at ease just being themselves. For older people, that sharing is an absolute joy. It’s something to treasure.
Eve and Lynton Brewer with Sam and Natalie.
For older people, that sharing is an absolute joy. It’s something to treasure, says Eve.
Terry Butler represents a new breed of grandparent – one that has been dubbed the ‘granny nanny’ by some. Terry takes care of her two youngest grandchildren, aged three and 16 months, at least three days a week because her daughter can’t afford childcare fees five days a week.
Terry says she loves her grandchildren ‘to bits’ but admits looking after them three days a week can be ‘exhausting’ at times.
I’m in my 60s and I really feel it. Usually these situations are managed by young mums with the energy to keep up with toddlers.
Anne McLeish, Grandparents Victoria director, says the role of grandparenting is changing in many families as more and more are assuming full or permanent part-time care of their grandchildren while their children return to work to pay off the mortgage or help alleviate childcare expenses.
This is happening like no other time in the past,” she says in relation to the number of appeals for support the advocacy group receives from grandparents.
Grandparents have always helped provide childcare. In fact, looking after the grandkids is one of the greatest pleasures of being a grandparent, but many grandparents are doing so much more. They are having to behave like parents all over again at a time when they would like to be winding down.
Annabel says she would be prepared to look after her grandchildren more if asked, but acknowledges taking care of both of them together three or more days a week would be ‘hard work’.
Childcare is so expensive and very hard to get into so I’d be prepared to help my children any way I could, she says.
I feel very lucky to be in this position because I didn’t have any hands-on grandparents – so I know what I missed out on and I value the experience all the more as a result.