Parenting: newborns to toddlers

Rookie Mum: time with grandparents

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 1:05pm

My parents came to stay recently, and my son Tom, now 18 months old, delighted in their company. They were equally overjoyed to see him. It's the first time he's clearly recognised them as "Bapa" and "Ganny". For the first time in ages, I wondered if we are doing the right thing living so far away from family.

Tom brought books to their laps for stories, pushed my dad around making him play with cars and trains, and gabbled constantly and merrily to my mum, pointing out trees and birds in the park.

But for those of us who live in Hong Kong as expatriates, the question of how to build a meaningful relationship between our children and their grandparents can be a tough one when they may live continents apart. Cora Ha, a parenting coach and educator, emphasises the importance of developing this relationship. "Grandparents can be such a gift to children. They generally have more time and patience to hear a child's stories, to do special activities or to simply be present for a child doing what children do best - playing. In the best case scenario, grandparents are more relaxed because they know their time with the children is shorter and less intense than it is with parents. So they can enjoy the time and not worry so much about disciplining or correcting issues. Today's parents usually have their children on full schedules. Hanging out with a grandparent can be a welcome reprieve for the child."

It's not just Tom who is benefiting. Says Ha: "Young children bring life to the party, and charge up 'old batteries'. The unconditional love children can give grandparents can prolong life and bring meaning to people who may be feeling less useful to the world."

This should be a win-win situation, but life is more complicated than that. Visits from grandparents who live far away tend to go on for weeks, and nerves can fray. I don't think I am alone in saying that when I spend a prolonged period of time with my mother, I revert to stroppy teenage mode. And as much as I love my parents-in-law, they take hours to get ready every morning, so the best part of the day is lost.

"The intense time is great for bonding," says Ha. "But tensions can arise. Parents and the grandparents can talk through some basic principles and get a set of game rules together. Usually, it's about the parents learning to just 'give it up' and let the grandparents do what they like, especially if it's a once-a-year thing."

She suggests homing in on one important issue where you may disagree, like food or bedtime routine, and letting all else slide.

Ha's recipe for success? "Make a schedule of activities that suit all parties. Make note of what the grandparent enjoys and try to match them up. If Grandma likes reading, then make reading one of her activities; but ask Grandpa to take the child outside to run because he likes to garden."

And what if your own relationship with your parents is sometimes a struggle? Ha says: "The healing we can gain from working things out with our parents as adult children can lead to many benefits between us and our own children, so that we can parent with more peace and confidence."