Being a grandparent isn’t as easy as “enjoy them, spoil them and send them home”.
Eugene Seow became a grandfather of two in 2020 and in 2022, received a double promotion to become a grandfather of four! As in parenting, there is no school you can learn from and you cannot apply the same rules as you did in your parenting days. But it’s an exciting journey for Eugene and his wife Julie as they embraced this new role wholeheartedly in this season of their lives.
Eugene was the former CEO of a social service agency (SSA) and continues to actively serve in the community as a coach, mentor and consultant in different organisations. Despite his busy schedule, he still prioritises grandparenting duties and would plan ahead with his children and accommodate each other for the occasional clashes of time and exigencies that require last minute help for child-minding.
Over the past few years, Eugene has been a strong advocate for the active role grandparents can play in the lives of families, both natural and spiritual. He piloted the “60 over 60” programme at Living Sanctuary Brethren Church, an initiative to encourage the seniors to stay active and healthy and to connect them to the younger generation in the church family as well.
This initiative aims to address the struggles the seniors have transiting from a long career, into the sudden and seeming ‘emptiness’ of retirement.
He said, “Very often, the issues that seniors face in their retirement years may be generational, but the solutions are found intergenerationally.”
This is why grandparents are still an important part of today’s families.
With more time on their hands, grandparents can give children the attention they need to grow and thrive.
Why grandparenting still matters
With more resources available to parents today, such as the government’s efforts to make preschool more accessible by increasing capacity and subsidising costs, it can sometimes seem selfish to trouble your parents to take care of your child.
In a society that values early education and giving children a headstart in life, we may also worry that the grandparents will not be able to keep up with the little one’s boundless energy and constant need for stimulation or engagement.
It is worth reminding ourselves that the grandparents often have something we lack – Time.
With more time on their hands, grandparents can give grandchildren the focussed attention they need to grow and thrive. Eugene and his wife, Julie would usually plan the time spent with their grandchildren, and loves bringing them out for walks, discovering the many different playgrounds around Singapore. Most days are spent at home where grandmother will read and share stories, sing or just play.
The benefits of grandparenting
Having the grandparents chip in is not simply about having free childcare services. Enlisting their help also benefits them, in staving off loneliness.
Children can bring a fresh breath of life to the homes of the elderly, with their constant activity, movement, and excitement for life.
As Ong Ye Kung, the Minister of Health recently warned at the White Paper Debate for Healthier SG, “We want to protect [the elderly], but we unintentionally expose them to an even greater risk of isolation and loneliness.
“That is when the spirit wears out, and the body gives way. If that mindset becomes entrenched, then over time, seniors become a problem to be contained and put aside, such as in nursing homes – out-of-sight, out-of-mind. One day, that room will burst.
“We must support as many seniors as possible to continue to live in the community, independently or with some help, contributing to the best of their ability, able to choose their own activities, and having a full social life with friends and family.”
When we see our parents getting old, we may sometimes feel that we should spare them the ‘burden’ of caring for our own children. But in doing so, we may deprive them of the joy and purpose in bringing up the next generation.
Research from Holt-Lunstad and Smith at Brigham Young University put the heightened risk of mortality from loneliness as akin to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic.
Entrusting your children to your parents, may not just benefit you, but them too.
As much as I’m learning to value my children, and my grandchildren, I think it also works two-way.
What if there are differences in parenting styles?
As a parent, one of your concerns may be around how the grandparent will ‘parent’ your child. You may worry that they may end up spoiling your child by being soft and permissive.
Clarity helps – so don’t be afraid to share with the grandparents about your preferred approach and ground rules.
For example, if you prefer that your child does not play with the phone unattended, make sure this is communicated well in advance.
A bit of thoughtful planning can help ease tensions and foster stronger inter-generational ties.
Ultimately, it’s what we value
As he reflected on his journey, Eugene concluded, “We need to first recognise each other’s value. Today, as much as I’m learning to value my children, and my grandchildren, I think it also works two-way.
“Children can also learn to value their parents and see that they still have something to give, and contribute, even at an older age.
“For example, even with my own mother, my siblings and I value her presence with us at meals and family gatherings even though at 90, she is not as active and mobile as before. She may not be able to spend time in the kitchen now but still feels so good when her children ask for her recipes and advice on various matters.
“At the recent Christmas gathering, she walked us down memory lane when she reminded the adult grandchildren now how she used to cane and discipline them in their younger days. And it was agreed, no bad memories and no damage done!
“We must all learn to continue valuing each other.”
Eugene’s story reminds me of what my grandmother did for me, when I was under her care as a young boy. Daily, she would cook a big pot of pork porridge, followed by another steaming pot of soup. She would rock me gently to sleep, and then wake me when my parents came to pick me up.
As I grew up, and those daily stays became weekly visits, she would press a $10 note into my hand, so that I could have more pocket money to spend.
Looking back, I never truly appreciated those times, until my grandmother passed.
Maybe the biggest lesson I learnt from her is that love knows no bounds and is not limited by age.
So the next time grandma or grandpa makes a mistake or bends a rule in your book, let’s remember that the main thing isn’t about them becoming better at grandparenting, but the gift of love they freely lavish on our children – and also hopefully receive in return.