Us parents have known this to be true for some time: grandparents are worth their weight in gold when it comes to entertaining, caring for, and simply loving our kids. And with so many of us parents working, we rely on our own parents to pitch in more than ever.
In fact, Australian families rely on grandparents more than any other source of childcare (Australian Institute of Family Studies).
The passing-down of knowledge, the telling of stories from times gone by and the skills that grandparents so naturally impart to our kids is widely recognised in our community (thank you Mum for the toilet-training and Dad for the swimming lessons).
I remarked to a friend some years ago that I’ve never needed my parents as much as I do now, since becoming a parent myself.
And then this: Global Pandemic.
Working parents (and yes, we are all so grateful to still have our jobs), adorned in our active wear/pyjamas/yesterday’s clothes, wrangle the mass of learning tasks to begin the daily dance between working from home and teaching from home. We’re told to do what we can, not to stress, to focus on the wellbeing of our children above all else, and yet the onslaught of home learning tasks roll in thick and fast.
Meanwhile, millions of the nation’s treasured grandparents are safely ensconced in their homes, out of the path of pandemic harm. They are bored and lonely. And we are exhausted.
In April 2020, The Conversation interviewed 2,000 parents (mostly mothers) to understand their experiences during Australia’s first lockdown. You can read their findings here.
And then came an idea, like a bolt from the heavens: outsourcing. I do this regularly in work and life, so why not embrace it in these, the strangest of times? My daughter adores her grandparents. They miss her terribly, and I’m desperate for an hour back in my day to get on top of those emails/dial in to that meeting/write that report. Grandparents were swiftly dialled in via Zoom, and off they went with the day’s maths task. I wonder why it took so long, floating haplessly in home-learning orbit before I did this?
My friend Sally’s Mum, Nanette, clocked on to the opportunity much earlier. Perhaps it’s because she lives in the UK and could see the wave that was about to hit us last year, or intuitively she knew her daughter would need help. Each day Nanette sent ‘challenges’ for her two young grandchildren to undertake. It kept them connected. It kept their spirits up.
But who knew we’d be back here again in 2021?
Like many Melbournians, Richard and Erica have spent more than 240 days in lockdown with their young family. Richard’s Mum Sue, a retired English teacher, lives on her own, just 11kms away, and has missed out on months of school pick-ups and time with her grandkids. After overcoming a few technology hurdles, Sue was recruited for weekly Skype ‘lessons’ with her young grandchildren, to help with their spelling.
“Despite not being technologically-minded I really enjoyed the calls with my grandchildren”, said Sue. “Some spelling tests and a little bit of grammar thrown in - this I could handle as it hasn't changed much over the years. It was lovely to see my grandchildren’s faces and their pleasure at their spelling successes! It has been a wonderful way to stay in touch during these very strange times”, she adds.
Richard agrees. “Introducing Mum into the weekly home-schooling routine acted like a circuit breaker. The kids really looked forward to their lessons with Grandma, and it gave us some breathing space, even just 20 minutes of downtime to make a coffee.”
Mum of two, Olvia has embraced the idea, too. Her young daughter attends Greek school every Friday, which they’ve kept up virtually throughout lockdowns. Olvia’s Mum Roulla has always been on hand to help with the Greek homework, including reading, grammar, spelling, mythology and history. They’ve kept the tradition alive throughout lockdown, despite being physically apart.
Olvia works full time and appreciates the extra help, but also recognises the regular catch-ups mean that her daughter continues to enjoy a close connection with her YaYa. Learning to navigate the messaging platforms has also meant Roulla has picked up new skills from the experience.
“Having Mum help with Greek homework has been so important to maintain connection and a sense of purpose, plus she’s a lot better at it than I am! It’s helped provide some structure to the week and something they both look forward to. It has also helped Mum to manage some of the isolation and loneliness”, Olvia reflects.
The benefits of seniors and young children spending time together is well-documented, including in the Australian Grandparents Care report (National Seniors Australia, May 2020), and in the ABC's wildly popular and joyous social experiment Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds.
Anne McLeish OAM is the Director of Grandparents Australia and says grandparents, especially baby boomers, are education advocates, too. “They are doing what they can to remind the community of the need to help children fulfill their potential through education. They write letters, work as volunteers in schools and help with homework”, she says. “In the time of COVID- 19 they have stretched their ingenuity by creating new ways to connect with children.”
Grandparents, you see, have become my home learning heroes.
The Origin Energy Foundation, whose focus is education, has partnered with curriculum experts Cool Australia to create fun, real-world educational activities for parents (and grandparents) to access. Created by teachers, the Learn@Home resources have something for kids of all ages – from mindfulness with popular children’s character Bluey, to designing your own smart phone.
And when the schoolwork is done, there’s plenty of ways grandparents and children can enjoy online time together. Relationships Australia, Queensland have some great ideas, including reading together online, conducting a puppet show or virtual ‘show and tell’. More here.