My favourite topic -

Raising Grand-children

I have raised four children and they have raised nine grandchildren so here is my observation of that experience.

The one true thing that can be said of ALL grandparents is that they have been exposed to life opportunities not yet made available to their children and while it is true that the benefits of this exposure for any particular individual can range anywhere between very little to hugely valuable nonetheless it would be rare to find that nothing of value had accrued from this journey.

I can remember my primary school teaching days back in the late 1970's, where some of my students would speak in a disparaging way about their parents and even more so of their grandparents for their lack of ‘knowledge’ of subject material deemed 'crucially important' by the child.

There is no more beautiful example that quite clearly demonstrates the problem in raising grandchildren.

I have during my grand-parenting lifetime lost one of my grandchildren in a supermarket and had another saved from severe accident thanks only to the usefullness of power assisted dual braking system on modern vehicles.

Both these experiences have a lot to offer current parents in raising their children.

I was born at a rather exciting time in recent history - 1948.

The greatest war ever experienced by the human race had just concluded with the use of the first instrument devised by humans with the potential to significantly alter the ecosystem of the planet and possibly annihilate the whole species.

We had truly entered the age of the atom and the die was cast for a future of rapid change not just for humans but for all life forms on our planet.

One of the most important take home message for me from my experience was the wonderful gift of being able to recognise in my children my own idiosyncrasies and stupidity.

The other was, that no matter
     • whether you think it’s right or not,
     • whether you think it’s fair or not; and
     • whether you think it’s dumb or not,
the facts are that no generation will voluntarily choose to learn from those that have gone before without first having to endure the same experiences and establish within themselves an understanding and appreciation of those consequences.

It has been said of the development of writing by the human species as being one of the most profound inventions of all time, for it gave humans the opportunity, not given to any other species, to pass on externally to future generations their knowledge, experiences and dare I say 'wisdom'.

This aspect of the invention of writing is true, it did give us that facility.

But, and here is the crunch, take a look some time soon at pictures from outer space of our planet and the footprint of humanity and see, if you can see in that footprint, the benefits of all that writing, to the current generation.

To the best of my knowledge there has never been a species who has brought about by its own actions its own extinction. The closest we can come to it was the Obligate anaerobe with their rather unique but almost fatal ability to convert methane into oxygen; a gas to which they were fatally  susceptible.

But I’ve jumped ahead, lets to go back to what would be seen by many, if not by all, as my serious failure as a grandparent with those two grandchildren.

My father smoked, he must’ve like smoking and certainly the addictive nicotine would have played its part, but for some reason I found the smell horribly offensive and not from any intellectual level, (In the 1950s smoking was not considered in any way to be a dangerous habit, quite the opposite, it actually had a lot of support for it's possible beneficial effects) but from an emotional and perhaps even personality standpoint, I made a determined decision that I would never smoke.

So, when I grew up I avoided smoking with a passion, simply because it was something I personally could not stand in my childhood and as soon as I entered that section of one’s life where one gets handed a higher level of autonomy I exercise that authority to shape the way I would lead my life of which smoking, would form no part-so how lucky can one be?

I was also, for all intents and purposes, an only child, so I was determined that my children would have a goodly number of siblings because of the misguided thinking that my life would have been better if I had have had brothers and sisters of roughly the same age as me, and if my then wife had not put a sensible and wise end to my procreation obsession I’m sure my children would have numbered greater than four - possibly six.

It is normal I believe when we are young to hold only the view that when things are not as good as we think they should be, then the only other option is to have them improve. I don’t know if it’s universal, but in my childhood, I had no appreciation of the concept that things could easily be worse.

Not until I saw the relevant incompatibility of my four children to each other and that the real successful strategy of life is to seek out friends with which you have a personality compatibility, did I really appreciate the stupidity of my reasoning, evolving as it only could have been at that age, from my total lack of understanding of how life really is.

But the story is not about me it’s about the phenomena of how things can happen to us in our childhood which dictate our behaviour and decisions as an adult.

I was, as a parent, what now would be termed a 'disciplinarian'. I expected my children, just like soldiers in an army, to respond unquestionably and without hesitation, to my instructions.

A strategy of course well supported by the science of survival and a subject to which we shall return later but suffice for now to say undoubtedly it was the underpinning cause from which both these unfortunate circumstances with my two grandchildren drew their breath.

My children started raising their children in 1994 and most probably the last of my grandchildren, took their first breath in 2016. This covered a period of time where cultural fashion in the Western world has changed and the 'age of enlightenment' has dawned on child raising, placing children at the centre of the universe.

Funnily enough my children with the lower IQ have, in my opinion, produced the most robust and confident offspring but as it still a work in progress it is too early yet for me to post the final report on the noticeboard.

You see I still seriously question the intelligence of negotiating with a 24-month-old person for the purposes of obtaining guidance on how to deliver nurturing requirements.

I do only becuase of the benefit of hindsight.

My recollections from when I first started out parenting was that I held a firm view about people and how they developed and matured. My belief was that children were born as a blank canvas onto which, just like an artist, the parent would paint the picture, interpret the scenery, hue the colors and when our work was done we would hang the painting on the wall to stand the test of time.

It was not until my late 40s that I discovered evolution and then not long after that the power of DNA, for until this understanding arrived, I had no real answer for why my strategy had been such an abysmal failure, for why, no matter how meticulously and with due care and devotion I had brushed so faithfully the perspective and matched the color hues of each canvas that when it came time to hang them on the wall they looked and felt absolutely nothing like each other.

But right now, we should hurry back to these two poor grandchildren, left languishing several paragraphs back, to explore why it is in my parenting approach that led to such unwanted outcomes.

My observation is that it was a combination of two factors: -
     • one, is that my children are doing exactly as I have done and that is taken from their childhood experience those things they disliked and insured their future life would be lived in the absence of such unpleasant circumstances-in their case my rigid disclipine; PLUS of course
     • the other is the shift that has come about by the move towards smaller families and therefore a greater concentration of focus on a significantly diminished brood.

My observation is that both of these grand children were raised as though they were, from the time they could walk, rational adults, in the formative stage of life, equipped with all the necessary experience to make wise and informed decisions. Consultation was the cornerstone of their management system and a great degree of authority was given to their rights for at least participatory and often autonomous decision-making.

It was I believe both of these components which produced these highly undesirable outcomes.

In the case of the grandchild who almost got run over, he objected and refused to hold my hand while we walking on the footpath and expressed this frustration of not being able to have his right for autonomy recognised in his well learned tantrum routine. I however failed my own test of mature judgement and exceeded to his wish to release him from my physical management of his spatial position supporting my decision by a conversation of reasoning with him that he "must, at all times, stay by my side".

However, all his experience to date had taught him that he had great latitude as to how he handled instructions from adults and he was well occasioned to making his mind up himself about how we would behave.

It was at that instance that he started to run from me and not only was he not cognitive of the speed at which he was running but also the direction, bursting from the footpath straight in the path of an oncoming car.

An almost identical scenario was played out with the lost shopping centre grandchild.

Inherited from a disregard for instructions and with the predisposition towards the opinion that their desires was all the justification necessary for pursuing an action, cemented entirely on the knowledge of historic responses of those adults charged with their care, my instruction to "stay along side me" was, if ever initially absorbed, jettisoned just as easily in favour of self directed action and in a twinkle of an eye took the oppertunity to venture forth on a vovage of discovery the moment my attention was distracted.

My children of course dutifully chastised me for my lack of competence in the management of their children never pausing of course and any time for reflection upon the circumstances that preceded the events and any review of whether their particular strategy for the transferring of decision-making abilities to their children may not just be a little premature and possibly even thoroughly unwise.

The study of a significant number of other species on this planet soon reveals that survival of offspring within their environment when they are juvenile inherently depends upon the abilities of the parent.

Recently I lost a clutch of ducklings. The ducklings were given to me by a friend who had raised them in his city backyard and now upon relocating there was no future home for these animals and so they were given a home on my dam on my rural property. The eight ducklings lasted three days.

Only two reasons were responsible for their demise.

The first one was the parents lack of understand of the rural dangers and hence compitent in alerting their offsprin; and

The second was the lack on the part of the ducklings to react diligently and promptly even when the parent’s instructions came.

In all species that have a social construct, except current humans, it is the life’s experience of the grandparents which is the guiding force and the glue which steers the whole community along the safest and most accommodating path.

Thankfully for humans 82% of us who now live in cities where our actual survival from predation by other species is significantly reduced but predation is not the only risk that presents itself in one’s life. Learning to manage competently in the world in which we live and to be able to handle change and adversity in a constructive and accommodating fashion is still a necessity for our emotional if not physical well-being.

I live near a small town in south-east Queensland in which the high school has a permanent 40km an hour’s speed restriction all along the road adjoining the high school. PLUS besides the speed restriction sign there is also a set of traffic lights to enable safe transit.

No juvenile attending that school is younger than 12 years of age yet we have no faith in their ability to be able to safely navigate an inherent part of their environment that has been around since the day they were born.

It was from this exact school that recently a young 14-year-old boy was seriously injured when after school and from and adjacent park, 'he' ran into the side of a car while trying to evade a playmate in a game of tag.

Young children are not blessed with the ability to provide meaningful guidance to their parents about the most useful nurturing process.

Young parents are poorly equipped to provide competent programs for the most useful nurturing program for their children.

Grandparents have travelled the journey even if their eyes were less than wide open and ears not listening for every sound of sensibility

So unless we recognise that the above three as a reality, we will court disaster.

Warren Bolton








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