The complexities of grandparenting

I suppose the experience – and particularly the conditions – of grandparenthood is different for different people. And like everything else, there must be ups and downs.

I hear grannies and grandpas who complain that they ‘never see their grandchildren’ – because of geographical or situational circumstances: or because the family has moved to France, or America, or New Zealand: or because their son’s marriage has broken up and since dads are seldom the custodial parent, the paternal grandparents are airbrushed out of the picture.

I also know grandmothers who have run themselves ragged looking after grandchildren because of work commitments, or health problems, with the younger parents and actually I’ve admired the way they so seldom complain (though sometimes their spouses do).

I can well imagine that there must be grandparents who are suffering from depression because they are asked to do more childcare than they can reasonably manage – but they don’t like to refuse because they want to support their families. So the report from Trinity College Dublin making this claim – that grandparents who provide more than 60 hours a month of childcare are vulnerable to symptoms of depression – is indeed credible.

Yet I suspect that if you went deeper into these particular situations and asked the grandparents in question whether they would like to see less of their grandchildren, you’d probably get a complex reply. Nobody wants to be taken for granted – and that includes grandparents – but the attachment to the child becomes so rewarding that there is great sweetness involved even with the sacrifice of time, effort and even money.

What I experience when caring for grandchildren is not so much depression as anxiety. I worry that I won’t be able to run after them: that there’ll be an accident I can’t cope with: or that, somehow, I’ll do the wrong thing, or upset their carefully-organised schedule.

All human relationships are complicated, and involve responsibilities, and grandparenting is no exception. 


‘Gay children’ too absolute a category

Former president Mary McAleese says she will vote ‘yes’ in the upcoming same-sex marriage referendum: well, she must do what everyone must do – follow her conscience.

Mrs McAleese said in her affirmation that “we believe it to be about Ireland’s gay children and about their future”. I think this phrase “gay children” is open to question. Should the sexual orientation of children be a fixed matter, as the phrase implies?

I’ve just read the most recent biography of that famous German man of the theatre (and Marxist) Bertolt Brecht (pictured). Brecht is described as aggressively homosexual in orientation until the ages of 15/16 – very manipulative of other boys whom he “courted”. Then he suddenly became predatorily heterosexual, and chased girls in the same determined way. All his life thereafter, he had various women on a string.

Some individuals say they knew from an early age about their sexual orientation, but it is not a universal principle. “Gay children” is far too absolute a category.


Nearly 400 years of Shakespeare

It’s the 399th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death next Thursday, April 23 – his 400th will be in 2016 – and to mark the occasion I visited Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, his birthplace, earlier this month.

It is now very touristy, with Shakespeare memorabilia everywhere, and heaving with visitors. Yet it has its charms – notably the splendid Royal Shakespeare Theatre – and there is a real sense of dedication to the bard about the place.

The most entertaining and accessible book on the subject is Bill Bryson’s paperback, simply called Shakespeare, in which he puts Shakespeare’s life and times into fascinating context.

The salient aspect about Shakespeare is that his life is so elusive: nobody has been able to establish many ascertainable facts, despite tireless trawling through every available document. He was also careful about hiding his own traces – possibly because he lived in dangerous times when individuals could be despatched to the Tower of London under the slightest suspicion of ‘treason’.

Catholics who refused to attend Church of England services had to pay a fine, which went from 12 pence a month to a then whopping £20 a month in 1581 – Catholic recusants who could afford the fine thus provided Elizabeth I with the means to defeat the Spanish Armada. Shakespeare may have been a recusant Catholic (and the ghost of Hamlet’s father indicates a belief in Purgatory), but if so, once again, he covered his tracks.

Shakespeare’s reputation went into obscurity for about 200 years after his death, and was only revived subsequently.

He added hundreds – maybe thousands – of new words to the English language: abstemious, antipathy, critical, frugal, dwindle, horrid, lonely, eventful, excellent, zany and many others were all coined by Will.

And we do know he loved his home town of Stratford, to which he continually returned, and where he chose to be buried.