The freshers in the group of Indian grandparents today are those born in the 1950s and 1960s, a generation that had undergone a huge transformation, especially if middle class. Its impact on grandchildren is worth giving a thought.
The new Indian grandmothers born in those years are from the first generation of women to graduate and take up full-time employment in huge numbers. They had shared their baby-care responsibilities with their mothers-in-law or their mothers, who belonged to the silent generation — the 1920s and 1930s age group.
This senior set of the “silent generation” had seen baby-rearing from close quarters for most part of their lives. Thanks to the joint family set-up and close-knit society prevalent then, some of them would have played a big role in raising a sibling, a cousin, a relative or even a neighbour, apart from their children. So, most of the women in this generation had enough knowledge of the nuances and hence handling the grandparenting stage was quite easy. The only flip factor was the fact that taking care of the grandchildren at old age when both the parents were off to work was a humongous task.
As the 1960s-born turn into grandparents, they have a totally different set-up now. There are many influential factors at the entry point — most of them are working though close to retirement (some like me had opted for voluntary retirement), their spouses have mostly retired or are just about to retire, their children are in demanding careers with their spouses also holding high-profile jobs, their mothers and mothers-in-law are expecting support in old age (as an entitlement in reciprocation for their assistance earlier). So, it is a story in every family of how this “young grandmother” manages all these challenges and tries her best to be a “super grandmother”.
The young parents these days work with flexible timings, work-from-home days and so on. So, the grandparents are now more or less like chauffeurs. Not working all the time, but need to be there whenever required stretching to durations of any length. They are supposedly a lot smarter, tech-savvy and can even drive. So a considerable load is supposedly taken off the new parents’ shoulders.
The grandparents have some strong thoughts at the base of their minds: “my child has a good career and I want to support him or her as much as possible; I had been a super mom when I was working and can definitely continue so now...”
But the reality is different. Their parents were strong in their mid- and late-fifties, thanks to the organic food and pollution-free life in their early years, the rigour in their regimen and lack of work-related stress. Naturally, they lose heavily on this count. They start their duties with a nearly worn-out physique, thanking their stars if they could stay off medicines.
Not only that, the seniors, or parents of the new grandparents, were comfortable with most developments in childhood and hence had less stress while caring for the grandchildren. However, with limited exposure, the juniors are not fully conversant with many aspects of the growth of a child and this invariably shakes their confidence off and on. Every issue turns out to be an internal tornado — paediatric advice, suggestion from peers, advice from seniors (if alive and sane), search results from Google, stand taken by the new parents coming in from different directions.
But there is a huge consolation — so much can be outsourced these days. Right in the beginning, if a junior granny is not aware of giving bath to an infant, call for help. If the physique refuses to cooperate in the daily routine, engage a full-time maid. If storytelling is not a comfortable forte, enrol the children in “story sessions” by “professional storytellers” (there are storytelling workshops for mothers and grandmothers too). If traditional games, slokas, classical music have to be taught, there are specific centres for that too. Of course, the smart juniors can definitely take their grandchildren from place to place to give a wholesome experience. In the process, we forget that all these were from one source — the grandmother — until the previous generation.
Parenting is instinctive. Some species such as elephants living in herds may have grandparents too playing some role. But it is only in the human species that grandparenting is as impactful as parenting. Again grandparenting is instinctive too. Despite all the differences between generations, it is a fact that the bonding of a baby boomer with his or her grandchildren will be no different from that previous generations enjoyed. And the joy a Gen Y or Gen Z grandchild gives to his or her grandparents is no different too.