The grandmother: Liz Hodgkinson, 74
We do not choose to have grandchildren, but they are a great – if unlooked-for – gift. I was a fairly young grandmother, only in my mid-fifties when the first one came along.
So I have had the pleasure of watching all five of them grow up, from toddlers taking their first shaky steps to extremely tall teenagers who drive cars and have very decided opinions on everything from Brexit to legalising cannabis. The oldest one – that’s 18-year-old Arthur – is now preparing to take a gap year.
There are many benefits of having grandchildren, these little (and all too soon not so little) people who steal your heart and turn you into the most ridiculously beneficent softie. The most overriding benefit, I would say, is that they bring love with them. Each new grandchild seems to be the most astonishing miracle and the capacity to love expands with each one.
Yet, at the same time, they do not cause the same levels of stress and anxiety as your own children did. The emotional bonds, while strong, are at one remove and your role is more that of a benign observer than an ever-watchful parent.
Grandchildren also reconnect you with young, new life at a time when you might otherwise descend into elderly crabbiness. They ensure that I am more knowledgeable than I would otherwise be
in all kinds of subjects, from music to fashion to present-day university entrance requirements. And, of course, they deliver endless opportunities to compare their lives with the good old days of your own youth. You can inflict your ancient jokes on them, and they may even pretend to find them funny. They indulge you as much as you indulge them.
You can relive your own childhood and youth, as you rediscover traditional games such as Monopoly and Cluedo, and the simple pleasures of beach holidays and building sandcastles. When I lived by the sea, my grandchildren absolutely adored coming to stay, playing in amusement arcades and once – to their parents’ horror – going bungee jumping. They loved it, and being a granny enabled me to stand back and recapture the sheer thrill that these activities bring to children.
When my ex-husband and I took all the grandchildren on a holiday to the remote Scottish island of Eigg, they were almost sick with excitement. Going on a sleeper, catching a ferry and spotting whales, dolphins and seals were adventures they will never forget, and the holiday was even more thrilling for being spent with people they do not see day in, day out.
I must admit that I was not very good with them when they were toddlers, preferring to remain at a respectful distance, but as they’ve grown up I have become more involved. I enjoy their – mainly – cheery, chatty company, their enthusiasm, their take on a world that is gradually opening out to them. Plus, as they get older, they are actually useful. For several years now, Arthur has been my IT man and, as a tech wizard, guides me through many abstruse areas and solves all my computer problems.
It is exciting to see their individual talents developing.I am there for them, but at the same time not judgmental or disapproving – even of my second grandson’s long hair, although I do try to correct his glottal stops.
Most of all, the presence of grandchildren means you have created a dynasty. The family line continues and, as you decline, they are your passport into an unknown future.
Becoming a grandfather for the first time
The grandson: Arthur Hodgkinson, 18
Firstly, grandparents get less annoyed with you than your parents, who can themselves be extremely annoying.
A grandparent is another adult who has your interests at heart, but who will never judge you or find fault.
Grandparents provide a different voice, a different outlook on life and are more generous than your parents, taking you to Byron Burger, for instance. My mum and dad would never do that.
Grandparents love you but are not so on top of you all the time, not so helicopter-like. They give you space to breathe, and they are not constantly telling you off or nagging you. They are less strict than parents as it’s not their job to look after you. You are occasional pleasures for them, as they are for you.
Having grandparents also enables you to see the differences between the way people lived then, and now. Talking to my granny, I am struck by how food has improved since her day, although her remark about being brought up on bread and dripping has to be taken with a certain amount of scepticism. But she grew up with rationing, when hardly anybody had a landline, when mobile phones had not been invented and few people had cars or went abroad.
I think my granny’s generation has experienced more change than any other, with women’s rights, homosexuality and so on, coming to the fore, and I have interesting discussions with her about these issues. She gives a perspective that I may not have considered and takes time to listen to my views as well.
I cannot imagine a world without the internet and computers. They are second nature to me, but still strange and frightening to Granny Liz. When we were younger, we put computer games on her iPad but she never once played them.
As a journalist, she has to keep up-to-date and she is an interesting grandparent to have. I very much enjoy doing her IT. I introduced her to Bitcoin and Monzo, the online bank popular with young people, and I often spend time explaining computer skills to her. I set her up with online banking and I went with her to choose a new phone and got her the best deal, as she would not have had a clue. I also put her onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp. Otherwise, I fear social media might be beyond her.
It’s also interesting to talk to Granny about the differences in the educational system then and now. Thanks to her, I’ve learned a lot about how education was in those days. In some ways, things haven’t changed all that much. Granny took A-levels in 1962, 56 years ago, and the exams – and the stresses over them – seem pretty much the same then as now.
Another good thing about having grandparents is that they have valuable contacts. I am about to go on a gap year and both Granny and her ex-husband, my Grandpa Nev, have contacts in Cambodia and India, two countries that I will be visiting.
Definitely, life is richer for having grandparents. Going on holiday with them has always been great fun and when things go wrong, that can be a fantastic adventure as well. I also know that if I were in trouble or became homeless, my gran would take me in. She is there to help if needed and having her in my life means there is always somewhere else to go, somewhere else to stay. On the other hand, she never interferes.
Well, hardly ever.