This week I had the pleasure of witnessing great grandparenting up close.
A child at the kindy my daughter attends hurt himself on the playground, and his grandparents dropped everything to swoop in from the Hauraki Gulf and take his brothers to their sporting fixtures on a Friday night, leaving mum and dad free to cope with several hours at Starship, a patient requiring lots of TLC, and their own nasty shock.
Of course, when I say 'good grandparenting' what I'm really meaning is that the pair in question appeared to show great support to their son and daughter-in-law. The grandmother also showed great support to me, when, coming over to fetch her grandsons she ignored my pig sty of a house, gave me some useful advice as a mother of four herself, and held and cuddled the baby while I whizzed around the kitchen like a demented Christmas elf.
I have some friends who would give their right arm for the type of support from parents or parents-in-law that this family have got. One, who has deceased parents and distant parents-in-law, gets very annoyed when people complain about their mothers-in-law or mothers because, as she rightly points out, any help is preferable to none.
But there are many who have family nearby and who don't get lots of help - or another friend, who has recently felt very aggrieved by the fact her mother has chosen to move away from her young grandchildren. Her mother was a young mother, meaning she's still (apparently) fit and healthy enough to keep up with preschool grandkids.
But she is also fit and healthy enough to enjoy her life as a free agent, having raised four kids and (perhaps) feeling she's earned the right to be child-free. Is it right to expect that our mothers and fathers will necessarily help out, or is that an old-fashioned notion? What amount of help can we reasonably expect from them?
I calculate that if my oldest child has his first child at 33 like I did, I will be 66 when first called upon for grandparenting duties. I'll still be working, if efforts to raise the retirement age have succeeded by then (and I think we should assume they will). As long as my children don't become teen parents (arrrgh, no!!!) I feel I will be ready and willing to assume the role of helpful grandmother by that stage.
Possibly. If the kids are well behaved. And their diets and schedules aren't too complicated!
While 66 sounds old right now, it shouldn't be unless my family history of high blood pressure, cancer and diabetes has made its mark. My own in-laws are around that age and older, and provide fantastic help when they travel north to see us, as well as still having highly successful careers in their (distant) hometown - possibly the perfect grandparenting compromise.
In general, you'd have to imagine an economic recession meaning more need for grandparenting involvement across society - but also more of a need for grandparents themselves to keep working.
Whatever the case, leisurely, well-resourced 'golden years' without childcare or paid employment seem more and more like a distant dream.
- NEW ZEALAND HERALD ONLINE