The Grandparent-Parent Dilemma

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The Grandparent-Parent Dilemma

Finding the opportunities within

By Mark Lim | 24 March 2021

I loved my Grandpa deeply. From as far back as I can remember, I had always cherished the time spent at my grandparents'. My grandparents didn't have much financially, but Grandpa made it a point to buy a board game for me every single week, while Mama would spend hours playing these games with me. During those childhood years, it was Mama whom I loved more – definitely because of the time that she spent playing games with me. But Grandpa was never far away.

My mum often recounts how Grandpa would ride with me on the school bus each day to make sure that I arrived at my primary school safely. One day she chided him for doing so, and he never again followed the school bus.

A few weeks later, she happened to walk down to the void deck of my HDB flat and saw Grandpa waving goodbye to me as I got down from the bus into the waiting hands of my domestic helper, before walking away silently. Though he was afraid that Mum would scold him, he continued to wait at the void deck every day until he was sure that I was safe.

My beloved Grandpa passed away in 2008, more than 12 years ago, but I still retain a very vivid image of him in my mind’s eye. After all this was the man who had walked with me during many of the moments in my life, both happy and sad, and I will always remember him fondly in my heart.

My children have always had a very close relationship with both sets of grandparents. Since they were young, the kids would go over to each grandparents’ place once a week when my wife Sue had to work. We felt that the grandparents would provide better care for our children than hiring domestic help.

We decided on a workable routine: Our kids would go to my mum's house for at least one day a week, and they would go to Sue's parents' home on another day of the week. Although it took quite a bit of planning (especially in the initial months), the arrangement worked well for many years, and both sets of grandparents spent lots of precious time with them.

As the adage goes, it is the role of a grandparent to spoil a grandchild. We’ve always struggled with this. Imagine both grandmothers asking if they could give ice-cream to your son - and the look on their faces when you tell them firmly that he cannot eat anything that has too much sugar or salt. Or when it comes to disciplining the child. Onlookers observing the face of a grandparent might wonder if the sky had fallen – all because the precious grandchild had been admonished by his father.

Reflecting on my relationship with my Grandpa as well as the interactions with my sons’ grandparents over the years, I have learnt two things about the unique role of grandparents in the lives of our children.

  1. Children need a strong relationship with their grandparents

    It is crucial for children to have a deep relationship with their grandparents. I don't mean a once-a-year gathering centred around Christmas or Chinese New Year. In the hectic lives we lead, it is often easy to neglect spending time with our families, so I am very thankful for the strong bonds that my children have with their grandparents. For instance, Kong Kong (maternal grandfather) would be the one taking them out for soccer each week, while Ye Ye (paternal step-grandfather) would play basketball with our kids. And Mama (maternal grandmother) is always feeding the kids with her homemade cakes and cookies, while Nai Nai (paternal grandmother) often takes them out for a sushi or pasta treat.

    The regular and intentional interactions the kids have with their grandparents provide the foundation for deeper conversations they may have with them about important matters in life. The stronger the relationships with their grandparents, the better our children’s familial support system.

    We may differ with our parents in our ways of disciplining our children – with grandparents tending to "give in" more to their grandchildren but we have established a common understanding with regards to the major disciplinary issues.

  2. Grandparents should be allowed to be grandparents
    Though it was not an easy journey, I have come to realise that grandparents should be allowed to be grandparents. We may differ with our parents in our ways of disciplining our children – with grandparents tending to "give in" more to their grandchildren but we have established a common understanding with regards to the major disciplinary issues. For instance, there should be zero tolerance if a child causes hurt to his sibling or another person.

    When it comes to the minor issues, we have decided that we should respect the wishes of the grandparents – after all, each caregiver's role is different. As parents, we have the final responsibility over caring for our children. This often requires us to adopt a stricter stance and approach, even as we show love to our kids.

    Grandparents, on the other hand, have a different responsibility. Their "job" is to love the child and to provide the strong familial support necessary for the child to thrive.

    Ultimately the child must know that he or she is deeply loved by everyone – parent and grandparent alike.

My beloved Grandpa was there for me when I was a child. I would talk to him when I felt sad and he would often take me out to eat to make me feel happy. All of these moments provided me with the comfort and support that I needed during my growing up years, when things didn’t always look that rosy.

All of us want the best for our children. We want our kids to look back on their childhood and remember all the happy memories. We want our kids to grow up with a healthy support system that they can rely on through life’s more difficult moments. And we want our kids to treasure their time spent with us, and also with their grandparents.

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.

Mark Lim is Consultant & Counsellor at The Social Factor, a consultancy and counselling agency which conducts training on life skills such as parenting, mentoring and special needs. He and his wife Sue co-write a parenting blog Parenting on Purpose, where they chronicle the life lessons from parenting two young boys aged 10 and 8.

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