When I was a child, my grandfather would tie my shoelaces, before carrying me to the school bus at the road end. When I was in high school, my grandfather would stand by the bus stop every evening, eagerly waiting for me to return home. When I was a graduate with a brand-new job, my grandfather would fervently rub my hair dry with a towel whenever I got drenched in the rain.
If a child happens to live with grandparents–along with parents–more often than not, that child usually grows up somewhat spoilt. I say this with such conviction because I was one such child myself. I confess: I didn’t cook, clean, or tidy-up after myself (much to my mother’s disappointment) until I was well into my late twenties and circumstances forced me to live independently. After all, my grandmother never let me get anywhere close to dirt and grime; she’d clean up even before my mother could demand me to. Naturally, I was attached to my grandparents.
Sara Moorman, a sociologist and lead author of a study on grandparent-grandchild bonding, found through her research that such relationships are mutually beneficial for the emotional wellbeing of both generations. Her study found that taking care of grandchildren makes grandparents feel needed and useful. It’s no wonder grandparents willingly take care of their grandchildren. My paternal grandparents are a case in point. On my maternal family side, it was customary for daughters to stay over at their mother’s place while nursing newborns, so they can have help. However, when I was born, my paternal grandparents were apparently so overjoyed at having a granddaughter that they insisted my mother stay with them instead!
Sometimes, the grandparent-grandchild bonding is so strong that it may even give the parents cause for envy. Research professional Devasena Thiagarajan relates to this very well, having lived all her formative years with grandparents more than parents. “Both my parents were working and often very busy. So, the first thing I’d do as soon as I got back from school was, sit next to my grandpa and tell him everything about my day. It would always bother my mother that grandpa knew more about my school life than she did–who I fought with at school, which boy pulled my hair, which class I loved the most, and which teacher I’d managed to annoy,” she muses.
Grandparents teach without seeming like they’re teaching. They pamper without a thought for their own welfare. They give without any expectation, except perhaps love. They’re guardians, but more close. They’re friends, but more special. They’re angels, but more real.
Clearly, the relationship a grandchild shares with his/her grandparents is very different from that which s/he shares with parents, even if they all live under the same roof. Many a time, parents tell you what not to do, while grandparents are always around to let you know you can do anything you set your heart on. My own parents told me how I can never make a career studying literature, while my grandparents told me how they can see me emerging as an author someday. I’m glad I took my grandparents’ words to heart; otherwise, I doubt you’d be reading this story.
But let me try and be fair to parents. Perhaps, they feel bound by their need to discipline their children, while grandparents have learnt to relax the rules a bit. And so, grandchildren probably feel free to share certain things with grandparents that they’d never even consider telling their parents. Undergraduate student Vandhana J Sreedhar observes that she is indeed very open with her grandmother who’s rarely ever reprimanding like her parents. She says, “I’ve lived with my maternal grandmother since the age of five. She’s more like a friend to me. I can actually tell her everything, without fear of her telling on me or even scolding me. She’s my confidant.”
It’s heartwarming how grandparents always find a way to comfort their grandchildren in a way even parents can’t. It reminds me of a scene from the Hindi movie Queen: When the heartbroken protagonist Rani locks herself up in a room, moping over her cancelled wedding, her grandmother attempts to bring her out again. Sitting by the closed door, dadi narrates that her own first love wasn’t meant to be either. She tells her that the wedding being called off could just mean that Rani might meet someone more attractive, even a foreigner perhaps.
While not all parents find it in them to be open with their children, grandparents (like Rani’s dadi) pull it off without a hiccough with their grandchildren. They even impart knowledge and wisdom in the process. And just like that, grandparents add that skip to our steps and that charm to our smiles. They teach without seeming like they’re teaching. They pamper without a thought for their own welfare. They give without any expectation, except perhaps love. They’re guardians, but more close. They’re friends, but more special. They’re angels, but more real. Needless to say, grandparents find an intimate place in their grandchildren’s hearts, a place that’s exclusively theirs, a place that no one else can ever occupy.