When Mel Hearse left her kids with their grandparents for two weeks to go on holiday, she was inundated by lazy parenting comments. But she wasn't simply taking up a free babysitting service as her critics assumed: Instead Mel - and parenting experts - say both her parents and her sons received a gift that will last a lifetime.
I spent many school holidays at the park across the road from my grandparents’ house with my sister and cousins, creating all kinds of magical worlds. We’d come home from our busy play for hot corn on the cob with lashings of butter for dinner and chat with Nanna before retiring to the bunk room, gossiping till we passed out, then waking up and repeating. I remained close to my grandparents on both sides until they all passed away in my 20s and 30s – except my Nanna, who my own sons still love visiting with now.
So it was something of a surprise to me I wrote a travel story exploring my experience of holidaying without my kids (then nine and 11). The comments left by readers were along the lines of “why bother having kids if you’re just going to let other people raise them?” and “you’re missing out on experiences with them, shame.”
I wasn’t angry, just sad. Because this one on one time for our boys and their grandparents was as special for them as the holiday was for us. I believe one of the reasons I had such a close relationship with my own grandparents is partly because of the parent free holidays, and it’s a privilege to watch my kids develop something similar with theirs.
The experts agree
We all know the standard benefits of children spending time with their grandparents. Grandparents love them as unconditionally as we do, without the same level of pressures of raising them. Which is a two-way joy.
“Spending time with a grandparent is a unique window of patience for most children. Free from the hurry-scurry of usual family life, grandparents bring decades of wisdom and experience to meet the needs of a grandchild, appropriately to where they are developmentally and emotionally,” says family therapist and mum of four, Claire Orange.
Claire also adds that research suggests spending time with grandparents may have protective factors against depression and other mental health issues. It’s also believed spending time with grandparents gives children a multigenerational viewpoint of where they come from, which builds a stronger sense of self and where they fit into the world. And let’s face it, a broader base of easily accessible unconditional love and support is just good common sense – and it doesn’t create itself.
It builds a bond that will help out during the teenage years
What my mum enjoyed most while she had the boys during my holiday was that she got to really know them as individuals. Rather than the standard overnight visit routine, or the afternoon drop in; the extended version with the day to day routine allowed her to get to know them on a different level. Now that I’m a mum and looking forward to grandkids of my own one day, I appreciate what a gift that is, and it’s something I hope to experience. And it benefits your children too.
“For grandparents, there’s a real knowledge of the child – what makes them tick, what makes them tip (over the edge) and the tricks for keeping them on-side. One day, when that child is a teenager, the grandparent with this intimate knowledge of the child’s temperament and personality is an amazing advocate and stabiliser for that child,” says Claire.
Kids who grow up being authentically themselves when with a grandparent are much more likely to be protected from negative influences in the tween and teen years, adds Claire. “We know from the research a tween or teen who runs into problems and feels like they will get into trouble from a parent are much more protected from making silly and risky mistakes if they are able to talk to a grandparent,” she says.
The value is lifelong
The relationship that exists between a grandparent and grandchild pays dividends for both over a lifetime, says Claire. She says the investment into forging strong relationships in the early years not only contributes richly to the development of their grandchildren, it’s also a relationship grandparents can draw on as they age. “Their grandchildren drop in, include them in their lives and keep them active and stimulated,” she says.
I love that as my kids get older, they share funny memes or things that happened in their day by calling them without any prompting from me, it shows me they genuinely enjoy their relationship and company.
So if you find yourself lucky enough to have the option like we do, but you’re afraid it’s bad parenting to leave your (willing) children with (willing) grandparents for an extended stay, I’d urge you to