Grandparenting is a complex reality depending on many factors, mainly the parents and their situation. Both or either, a grandmother or grandfather are often useful but also often powerless.
Patricia looks after her late son’s little girl at times when the mother or the other grandmother is not available. However the child officially belongs in the mother’s family so granny Patricia has little say over schooling, discipline or even religious upbringing.
George and Kate take their two grandchildren to church on Sundays and she teaches the children their prayers but the mother and father do not practise their religion. They worry that this confuses the children.
Millicent lives alone in a rural village after nursing her husband through a long illness. She had little opportunity to see her grandchildren who live with their parents in town. Now alone she is very lonely as she tells her neighbours at their weekly pensioner’s tea.
Doris is part of the same group but feels burdened in a different way as her 5 orphaned grandchildren live with her. The three boys are growing up and becoming very demanding, often even forcing her into giving them money she needs for food and transport.
Susan is fortunate. Over the last years her Alzheimers has become a difficulty for her family but until recently she lived with her granddaughter’s young family who were exceptionally kind and gentle with the old lady. Eventually as she became more confused this could no longer continue but they all still regularly visit her and continue to show their love.
George lives with his divorced son and the two of them quite enjoy having his boys over for the weekend, but are also pleased to send them back to their other home.
To whom do grandparents really matter and when? For many of those living in retirement homes or villages their friends and neighbours can become more important than their own family. Often the next generation have left the country or region and grandchildren are almost like strangers when they meet once every few years.
A helpful resource, the Grandparenting Association of SA www.grandparentssa.co.ca explores legal matters, relationships and tips for bringing up grandchildren if they become primary carers. There are legal obligations as well as legal rights around grandchildren. Can a grandparent have a say in the choice of schools or church, contest an abortion, hospitalisation or treatment? What are their rights to access to children in case of a divorce, or adoption or fostering?
Can one say that caring for themselves should be their priority at that stage in life? Saving for their own old age is necessary as too often these days they can no longer depend on their children to care for them.
It seems that in society and in church there is little focus on the specific needs of grandparents. They are not just “the elderly” they continue to be members of the family. The recent Life Esidimeni debacle in South Africa where over 140 mentally ill patients died for lack of proper care after being transferred from one institution to inadequate facilities should remind us that everyone in the family, old or young, healthy or disabled does matter. Some families were concerned and involved, but If all their families had been in regular touch could such a disastrous situation have been avoided?
It is grandparents and grandchildren too who need special attention. Unhappiness in children and the unacceptably high child suicide rate are massive concerns. All these are reasons for the MOVEMENT OF PRAYER OF GRANDPARENTS FOR GRANDCHILDREN. Maybe we oldies do have time, but maybe too young ones could make time to remember and pray for their grandparents in their needs.
Pope Francis devotes a whole section to the elderly in Amoris Laetitia AL191-193. . Pope Francis: Our elderly are men and women, fathers and mothers, who came before us on our own road, in our own house, in our daily battle for a worthy life. They are our living memory. How I would like a Church that challenges the throw-away culture by the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old.” AL192.
Visit www.marfam.org.za to search for the GRANDPARENTS MOVEMENT OF PRAYER, BEATITUDES FOR GRANDPARENTS, A PRAYER AND BLESSING and more.
Check out A MANDELA YEAR from FAMILY MATTERS magazine No 2 2018 @ www.marfam.org.za/articles