‘On Call’ Grandparents: How Indian Families Are Striking A New & Fulfilling Equation

Posted: October 5, 2017

Grandparents can be a great substitute for parents in many cases, especially in India where families are generally closer knit. A look at this trend.

When five-year-old Muskaan returns home from kindergarten, her granny welcomes her at the door with a warm cuddle. After some time, while Ajji pushes the mishmash of raggi mudde down her throat, Thata entertains her until the ghee-laced plate is empty. The entire afternoon, the grandfather keeps the child engaged, playing with her and helping her with homework.

In the evening, the septuagenarian couple takes the child to a nearby park, then dinner time and two bedtime stories later, the happy threesome calls it a day. The routine continues only to be interrupted briefly on Friday evenings, when Muskaan’s parents take her home, only to return the child to the caregivers on Sunday evening.

The arrangement works well for everyone. The grandparents have something to fill their day, besides the bonus of bonding with the grandchild, and the parents are able to pursue their careers, without having to worry about picking up and dropping the child at a crèche.

It would’ve been ideal if they all lived under one roof, but due to work-related compulsions, it made sense for the son and daughter-in-law to stay close to the office and it is not possible for the elderly couple to leave their abode and unsettle themselves in their twilight years. So they forged the middle path.

But sometimes Muskaan refuses to go home to her parents. To the child, her grandparents’ house is her permanent home and her parents’ place is the weekend home. “Every time, my son comes to pick her up, Muskaan has to be coaxed, cajoled and bribed to go with him,” says the doting grandmother. The grandparents love the attention that the child bestows on them. “It is like becoming a parent for the second time. We are reliving our son’s childhood through Muskaan,” the grandfather says with a smile.

The grandparents are in demand again for a permanent role in their grandchild’s life. It is not just a summer job anymore, as was the norm a decade or two ago, when the resources were limited and the parents preferred to pack their children off to nani or dadi’s house, rather than heading for a cruise or a holiday in Europe.

Until the beginning of 21st century, when not many women worked, the young women detested the idea of a joint family. Living with the in-laws or any interference from the girl’s parents was a big No. Newly married couples wanted to enjoy their new-found freedom. Women’s education has helped more number of women to enter the workforce. But if mothers would go to work then what about children, home, supervising servants, cooking? Whether out of choice or compulsion, the joint family system, which was earlier showing signs of decay, is gradually making a happy comeback.

The Ranjans proudly call themselves “available on call” grandparents. “I love the joint family set up where the grandchildren get to know their roots and grandparents teach them family values and traditions. For generations, it has been proven that the grandparents pass on age-old wisdom to their grandkids better than the parents themselves. Young couples are too busy with their careers and social engagements, and don’t have the time or patience with small children,” says Shashi Ranjan, a grandmother to four.

The Ranjan couple shuttles between Mysuru, where they live and Benguluru, which is home to their two sons. Their travels depend on their grandchildren’s holidays. “Becoming a grandparent is the best stage of one’s life because you get to enjoy the little ones without experiencing the stress of raising them. Apart from sweets, we carry loads of new stories, wish every grandparent could do that,” Ranjans say in unison.

Out of seven middle-aged couples I interviewed for this article, four were either living with their elderly parents or leaving their kids with the grandparents, though not always out of choice. The rest wished their parents lived closer. Ayaas or nannies, however trained they maybe, can’t substitute the love and care grandparents can provide. Can they?

Obviously the children are the happy lot. There would be hardly any child who would not like to be with the grandparents. The grandparents and the grandchildren share a unique bond. Sometimes this bond is stronger and deeper than the one between the children and their own parents. Grandparents love to spoil the grandkids with the love, cakes and goodies. And they have unique stories to tell.  There is another reason why every child loves grandparents. Whenever there is a tussle between the parents and kids, the grandparents side with the grandchildren; so the kids would always have someone who is in their team permanently.

Karan lives with his grandparents in Mangaluru, while his parents live in Canada. Once in a year, he travels to Canada along with his grandparents to spend some time with his parents. But even in Canada, Karan sleeps with his dadima. Feeding him, giving bath, taking him to the park, everything has to be done by the grandmother. Next year, when Karan turns five, he would have to move to Canada permanently to start his schooling. Karan’s parents are already jittery about looking after the child all by themselves, as the boy is very attached to the grandmother, not sure if he would be able to stay without her. Not only this; as both the parents work and the babysitting services being expensive, crèche is not the first option. The parents are reconsidering their choices.

What is so magnetic about this relationship? One school of thought opines – because the grandparents as parents couldn’t enjoy their own children as much as they had wanted to due to their own professional obligations, financial constraints and responsibilities at home but after having fulfilled all their duties, they are free to indulge in the fun that they would have missed with their own children. And kids would obviously lean towards someone who gives them love, attention and time.

Every relation in life is subject to change but not the love between the grandparents and the grandchildren. In fact the bond between the two only evolves and strengths with time and age. Grandparents are no longer required just to babysit the kids; they are needed for much more than taking care of the physical needs of the grandchildren in the absence of parents. In fact the stressful life has increased their demand even more. Always eager to pass on the wisdom which comes only with experience and age, they are the calming factor and the pillar of support in a child’s life.

Even schools are waking up to the importance of grandparents and the role they play in the lives of the little ones hence the concept of Grandparents’ Day in the schools where the grandparents are invited to the kids’ school and are allowed to sit in the classroom where both generations indulge in various activities together such as colouring, reading, solving puzzles, crossword etc. The result is better bonding between the two and their involvement in each other’s lives.

Unfortunately, it is not possible for every child to have the opportunity to live with the grandparents. But even if you don’t live with your grandparents, advanced technology has made it possible to bridge the distance gap between the two generations. It is on parents to facilitate that the children and the grandparents communicate and stay in touch as often as possible.  With Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, it is as good as meeting except that the grandparents can’t hug and cuddle them on a computer.

So if you haven’t called or met your grandparents for a while, haven’t told them how much you value their presence in your life, now is the time to do so!

Published here earlier.

Image source: pixabay

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  1. Zoya Shaikh

    It took decades for the neutral families to understand the importance of joint families and the values imparted by the grandparents on their grandchildren. With the come back of the joint families, both the grandparents and grandchildren find support in each other.

  2. Nothing new, joint families always functioned like this which is why kids were grounded. My strength was always my grandmother first paternal and then maternal, they are my icons, the same goes for my daughters, actually one lives with her doing her MD in pharmaceuticals. Trust is a huge issue here, I have seen many women of my generation, and even younger ones having issues trusting their kids to their in-laws.

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