Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Elders: Sunshine in sunset years

A local organization in Chennai, India recently conducted an opinion survey on whether grandparents are being treated as glorified servants. The findings of the study are not known.

Anyway, this is a relevant question at a time when there is a subtle change in the nuclear family scenario. With both husband and wife working there is often a problem in looking after small children. Increasingly more couples seem to be depending on their parents to fill in this need.

Whether the grandparents in such cases are being treated as glorified servants mainly depends on attitudes. Provided they have no serious health problems, the senior citizens would be generally happy to look after their grandchildren.

Many elders see their grandchildren as an extension of themselves. Taking care of the little ones brings a new meaning and purpose to their lives. What otherwise would have been empty, depressive hours are filled in purposefully.

Are such arrangements good for the kids? The answer is yes, of course. Busy working parents hardly have the time for their children. Expressions of love and shared activities are often below the desired level. Grandparents fill in that void.

The elders, particularly in the Indian context, provide a link to culture and heritage. Many children who grow up in the cities are only vaguely aware of their roots. That changes slowly if the grandparents stay with them. The stories and reminiscences narrated during the hours together make the children aware of their background and also, in many instances, instill in them a certain sense of values.

With grandparents staying in the house there are likely to be more visitors and greater contact with relatives. This too has a positive impact on the children. They become conscious that they have people, a family background. That provides the children with a feeling of belonging and a better sense of security.

There is, however, an amount of risk when parents stay with their progeny. The elders are bound to be quite sensitive. A thoughtless word or gesture from the offspring (or his/ her spouse) with whom they stay, can cause considerable damage. This is particularly so if the seniors are financially dependent on the son or daughter.

On the other hand, unless the seniors understand the requirements of their offspring, living under one roof can be a fiasco. Awareness of the compulsions of the younger generation, their need for privacy and independence is essential for being together happily.

These risk factors apart, the return of the joint family system in a modified, modernized and limited form can be good for the society.



Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

'Many elders see their grandchildren as an extension of themselves.'
This is such a thought-provoking observation.

Unknown said...

Thank you Gardenia.


I would say the grandparent-grandchild relationship is symbiotic,and fulfilling to both.

"Awareness of the compulsions of the younger generation, their need for privacy and independence is essential for being together happily" - well said.