parent opinion

An open letter to the secondary parents we all too often forget about - the grandparents.

As I zoomed out of the door one day last week, in a hurry to get to work, I left my two daughters in the care of my mother. From Wednesday to Friday, where this scenario is often a typical of the morning, I sometimes take for granted how fortunate I am to have someone who is at my house to not just watch my children but to actively finish getting them ready, take them to school, cart them around to various commitments, and to ensure they are ‘fed’ and ‘watered’; all while I can attempt to get to work on time.

This explanation of my mother’s role – my children’s grandmother – is a pretty simplistic one. In reality, it is far more than being a babysitter, a taxi driver, and a daily organiser; it is in fact, considerably significant, profound and meaningful. Like many other grandparents out there, my mum is a secondary parent.

On Sunday it was National Grandparent’s Day and like most things ‘grandparent’ it came and went without any fuss, without much acknowledgement and without any expectations of gratitude. But it shouldn’t be that way – there should be fuss, acknowledgement and gratitude because so many grandparents out there do more than their fair share and without them many of us would be struggling and unable to do many of the things we want or need in other areas of our life (or in the parenting area for that matter).

The truth is they’ve had their time as parents, where they raised their children from newborns through to the adults they are today. They did all the things parents do – the bathing, the changing of countless nappies, the school drop offs and pickups, the volunteering in school canteens or at the football on the weekend. Everything we now do, they once did too.

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Shona with her two daughters. Image: Supplied.
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They were there for us when we were sick and when we hurt ourselves. They celebrated our successes, and when we achieved our goals or a milestone we were aiming for, they were our number one cheerleaders. They encouraged us and supported us when we faced hurdles or things that we struggled with. They let us grow and in turn, they courageously stepped back as we became more independent, as we turned into our own person.

Now, as it’s their turn to have a well-earned rest, so many of them are instead choosing to step up and to do it all again. Most of the time these grandparents are doing this because they want to, not because they feel pressured to. They step into this secondary parent job and in the process, they allow us to continue our career pursuits, allow us to go after our other dreams, and allow us to fulfil many of our other needs. To me, this is deserving of so much fuss, acknowledgement, gratitude and respect.

When my children’s grandmother is with my preschooler Wednesday to Friday, she will read with her, go outside to the chicken to check for eggs, help her do arts and crafts, cook with her and play toys with her. On occasion she will also become the client at the hair and beauty salon, adorned with blue eyeshadow and slicked hair. On Friday she even goes into my eldest daughter’s Prep class to help them with their reading.

Knowing that my mum is taking on this role as secondary parent to myself and my husband doesn’t make me feel guilty or embarrassed that it should be me or him doing this and not her. Instead it makes me feel incredibly lucky that my children are building a strong connection with her, with a different generation that is filled with amazing knowledge, experience, values, views and perspectives that I could never offer. It makes me smile when I hear them tell Grandma’s stories from when she was young, or when they tell me something that happened when I was a kid (from Grandma’s perspective). I love knowing that there will be a new generation of our family who will make our ‘Granny Keable Biscuits’ or our carrot and cheese salad at Christmas because that’s what Grandma makes.

I know that my mum too benefits so greatly from this secondary parent role. Having to actively and regularly communicate with the kids on their level, to be imaginative and hands on, being physically active and to sometimes just become a kid again allows her the opportunity to be playful, silly, less serious and also to be distracted from the more serious aspects of life. The smile and laugh that I witness when they are together displays a sense of love and joy that only a grandchild can bring her and I know she wouldn’t want it any other way.

So if you, like myself, missed Grandparent’s Day and you, like me, have a superstar parent that takes on this secondary parent role to their grandchildren, take a moment to create a bit of fuss, acknowledgement, gratitude and respect for all that they have done and all that they do.

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