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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

Being a grandparent today

Fri, 25 Sep 2015 08:13:00 +0000 Published in Alto Aragón Newspaper

The new work status of many families (work professional full-time of both the father and the mother) has generated the phenomenon of "the children of the key". In order to allow their children to enter their (empty) house after school, their parents give them the key in the morning. The subsequent conversion of some key-children into grandchildren accompanied by their grandparents is mitigating their status of orphanhood, while changing the traditional passive role of grandparents. The latter are increasingly extending their care as the family grows: they supervise homework, control the use of television, take the grandchildren to high school and to the doctor, pray with them when they go to bed, etc.

With their availability and capacity for sacrifice, these super-grandparents are erasing the old image of the "grandparent onion", limited to telling stories, and that of the "flower grandparent", confined to a corner of the house. They are very different from the grandparents who refused to stay with their grandchildren ("I already took care of my children"). They are earning their way out of hearing "it's grandpa stuff". They are now active family members who make it possible for their children to give them new grandchildren. In addition, they can boast of being young grandparents (the young person does not live a life of saving energy and avoids the cold calculation of the old man).

Grandfathers and grandmothers, because of their links with generations of the same family that have already disappeared, because of the maturity acquired through experience, because they have more time, can and should collaborate with parents in the care and Education of their grandchildren, acting with the same educational guidelines, although moving in the background. It would therefore be a mistake for them to be treated as "babysitters" (without conferred authority, without the "right" to correct and be obeyed).

Grandparents and grandchildren need each other: grandparents enjoy their grandchildren without the stress of being primarily responsible for them Education; grandchildren, in turn, turn to their grandparents in difficult moments. A funny example: an eight-year-old grandson asks his grandpa financial aid to fix his stroller. After a long time trying to fix it, the grandson asks grandpa: Do you think it will work? The grandfather replies: I don't know. The grandson adds: Don't you think we should get a second opinion?

The child appreciates what the grandparent has: wisdom, stories to tell, patience. The grandparent appreciates what the child offers: simplicity, innocence and a wide-ranging curiosity. Between grandparents and grandchildren there is a spiritual affinity and empathy that makes dialogue possible. The grandparents' ability to listen creates a reciprocal trust, making them confidants of their grandchildren. Children often tell grandparents personal things that they do not tell their parents. But, all in all, it is the grandparents who are most enriched by attention with their grandchildren, as the following testimony shows:

"When someone begins to be called a grandparent,the illusion of living increases. They feel more loved, more listened to, more valued, more useful. Being a grandparent is a gift received from heaven just when one begins to grow old (so as to never become one). The gift consists in renewing one's will to live, to become a child again, to recover one's youthful spirit, to evoke and savor the good memories of the past. By observing children and talking to them, we always learn a lot. For example, to be simpler, to trust others more, to be more curious, to be more optimistic and cheerful".

Juicy and amusing dialogues easily arise between grandfather and grandson based on the former's sense of humor and the latter's naivety. For example:

-How old are you, grandfather?

- (Joking) No me agreement.

-Look at the label on your pants. Mine say "five to six".

For grandchildren, their grandparents are witnesses to the past who provide valuable information about the family's history. A problem nowadays is that this history has been lost; thus, the continuity of the generations and the subject values cultivated by the ancestors are not seen. As a consequence, many children, ignoring their roots, do not know themselves well. Grandparents pass on wisdom from their reflective experience. They are experts in the art of living. They help their grandchildren to distinguish the good from the bad, the valuable from the non-valuable, the transcendent from the inconsequential; they transmit to them a Philosophy of life that has no expiration date: "As my grandfather used to say..."