Why grandparents are so much more than babysitters

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt hosts Feed Play Love, the daily bite-sized parenting podcast that puts expert advice and real-life stories in your pocket. 

When I was growing up, I wasn’t particularly close to my grandparents. Not in the way that my children will be close to theirs. And that’s what I’m grateful for this Grandparents Day.

These days, grandparents have stepped into a caring role in a huge way. According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, in 2015, grandparents were the biggest cohort of ‘informal carers’ for children aged 0-12. At a time when many have retired and should be putting their feet up, they’re running after toddlers, wiping snotty noses and spending hours at the park.

As a parent who relies upon my own parents and mother-in-law for care when I need to work, I’m incredibly grateful for this support. But grandparents are so much more than part-time carers of my children.

The amazing power of grandparents

Grandparents weave a cocoon around children - with love, warmth and knowledge. Both of my children have a special relationship with their grandparents, something separate to what they have with me or my husband. Even the ones that are no longer with us.

A few years ago, my father-in-law George passed away. George, otherwise known as Georgie or Nono, was a larger-than-life character. He lived in Adelaide with Nona Lauretta. He played the bass and liked to throw bread balls at his children and grandchildren when he was at dinner. He was tall, imposing, with a strong Italian accent and a wicked sense of humour.

When George died, my daughter Darcy was only three. She didn’t really understand what it all meant, or that she’d never see Georgie again. But George is still a big part of our family life. His photo is all around our flat; on the fridge, beside Darcy’s bed, next to the coffee machine playing his bass.

Darcy still talks about Georgie. She will recount a story about how they shelled beans together, or how he used to tease her with chocolate. In some ways, I think even my son - who was only six months at the time - has a sense of his Nono George, and the fact he’s still a part of our family.

Grandparents rule!

Everyone has a different relationship with their grandparents. Some have beautiful memories, others none at all. Not all grandparents want to be involved with their grandchildren. My kids are just incredibly lucky that they have grandparents who love them to bits and want to be a part of their lives.

For example, my parents have a grandchild in their care every day of the week (not always my children, they have six grandkids). Every grandchild knows the words to ‘Morningtown Train’ because my mother has sung it to each child, multiple times. There’s a cupboard full of games and colouring-in paraphernalia. Pop went on eBay and bought a stack of second-hand Lego. They know that Nanny will often have some Smarties hidden somewhere and that if they stay for dinner, chances are they will get an ice cream for dessert.

My kids have the added benefit of an Italian nona who lives in Adelaide. Nona is a little mad, and I don’t think she’d mind me saying it. Nona will send videos to the kids dressed up as a fortune-teller, or with some other crazy costume on. When she comes to visit, she is always laden down with gifts for the kids and will spend hours playing with them, making mud pies and grassy potions, or building crafty things out of just about anything. Don’t even start me on her cooking. The fact my daughter has been such a fussy eater for half her little life is a crying shame.

If all of those wonderful things aren’t what childhood memories are made of, I don’t know what is. What a gift. It’s one that their grandparents give freely, and one I’m incredibly grateful for. Even more than all the babysitting and caring they do when I need them.

As far as I’m concerned, every day should be Grandparent’s Day, they rock!

Sunday, 27 October is National Grandparents Day in Australia.