The Next Generation: Grandparenting Means Taking a Step Back

Becoming a grandparent hits you hard between the eyes.

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Over the years, you grew used to being a parent. You became good at it. You worried about the merits of different schools and wondered what you should do about bullying. You baked birthday cakes at midnight. You ferried children through the night and feared for their safety when they passed their driving test or stayed out late.

Then, they grew up. Maybe they married, settled down with a partner, got proper, adult jobs, struggled daily to find work or travelled. They began to lead their own lives. Maybe, you felt a bit lost for a while. They didn’t seem to need you so much.

You anticipated the birth of grandchildren.

Then, one day it happened, and bang! Once again, floundering in a new world, you set off on another long learning curve: this time, at one remove.

Now, you see parenting in a whole new light.

You had forgotten or, rather, your memory had kindly blanked out for you, just how exhausting parenthood can be.

You watch your daughter-in-law as she copes with an energetic three-year-old while waiting, exhausted, for her overdue second baby to arrive. You visit your daughter and listen to her in the early hours, patiently comforting a baby who hates to sleep.  You wonder at the depths of human everyday resilience.

Grandparents can say, “It passes.” You can encourage: “He’ll sleep through the night soon,” and offer meals and breaks, but you can’t really help. Mothers and fathers must learn, bleary eyed, to find their own way through the parenting minefield.

As you watch, your learning curve can take you to a new, realistic and joyful perspective. You want your grandchildren to be healthy and happy. They may succeed at school. They may not. You find, astonished, that you really don’t mind too much, although their parents might. You want their lives to unfold, interesting and unique to them. You can’t wait to see how they turn out.

Yet, it is their parents’ joy and responsibility to make it happen, not yours. You must take a supporting role, this time. You find a place for yourself in their lives.

I have three grandsons, now. I creep on the floor on my dodgy knees, building towers of bricks and “brmm-brmming” cars across the carpet. As the family speech and language guru, I field questions about whether saying “Wah-wah-wah” during the singing of “The Babies on the Bus” constitutes a word.*  I show proud parents how many words and gestures their baby understands and explain why it’s OK for him to say “ah” for “Car.”

Whatever your special skill may be, maybe maths or gardening, you can be sure that you’ll have the chance to use it with your grandchildren.

You know that this new generation of parents will do a good job, as we did in our day. They will nurture and love their children, feed them and keep them warm, play with them and give them space and time to do their homework.

Meanwhile, you watch with a lump in your throat and marvel to see your own children all grown up.

If only you’d known when they refused to eat anything except sausages, fought for a later bedtime and hated school that they would turn out so well.

*Yes, “Wah-wah-wah” is a word because it consistently means the same thing to the one-year-old. 

More about child language development? Try these Ten Tips for Play To Help Your Child Talk.


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Frances Evesham: on the run around Europe for years, with only a husband, three children and a succession of opinionated cats to keep me out of trouble. Somerset stopped me in my tracks. Now I walk in the country and breathe sea air. I will get around to cleaning the house soon.

I've been a speech therapist, a professional communication fiend and a road sweeper. I sometimes work in the criminal courts to uphold fair questioning of people with special needs.

I smell the roses, lavender and rosemary as I cook with a glass of wine in one hand and a bunch of chillies in the other. Writing historical romances and books on communication leaves enough time to enjoy bad jokes and puns and wish I’d kept on with the piano lessons.