Updated: Sep 16
“Your nana (maternal grandfather) would be so proud of you if he were alive today. He would perhaps throw a feast for the whole village!!” my mother exclaimed when we learned that I was just selected for an admission into medical school. I happened to be the first person in over three generations on both sides of my family to have an opportunity to become a doctor. You see, I came from a family of lawyers and engineers. My mother’s words made me feel very fortunate not because I had just taken the first step towards becoming a physician, a childhood dream of mine but it reminded me of the richness and fondness I had for my experience as a grandchild.
I lived with my nana and nani (maternal grandmother) until I was five because they wanted me to stay with them (I was born in their home), about 100 miles away from where my parents lived. Today, especially as a psychiatrist, I feel overcome with gratitude about the wonderful impact they had on my life. I know from my own experience that grandparents have an uncanny way of making a grandchild feel special. One always remembers the affectionate glances, warmest hugs, and tender conversations, all of which tell the grandchild in unspoken words, “You are special!!” For those of us who are fortunate to have had that kind of experience, we know it has helped solidify our belief in ourselves.
And then there was my baba (paternal grandfather) who was a great educator and story teller. He was the tallest man in our family, well over 6 feet. He was aristocratic, well dressed and a graduate of one of the best universities in the country. He had the largest vocabulary of anyone I’ve known and spoke many languages; in fact he taught me the English language. My job each evening was to prepare his hookah, the water-cooled pipe used to smoke tobacco. Baba would draw from the hookah with a thoughtful expression, blow a curling tendril of smoke upward and begin a story from scripture. I would sit mesmerized at his feet as he brought the Hindu scriptures to life. He would act out each part, his face growing expressive, his voice changing timbre as he spoke for each of the various characters. As I grew older, I became his confidante. He had lost his wife when my father was 9. He would tell me stories about himself and my grandmother in their youth, making me feel closer to him and to the grandmother I never met.
I was fortunate to have very different positive experiences from each of my grandparents. My maternal grandparents were doting: I was the apple of their eyes and they showered me with love and gifts. My paternal grandfather was my mentor, my teacher, a larger than – life story teller who gave me a wealth of history and experience with his words.
There is an old Indian saying “grandchildren are the interest on your principle”. In other words, grandchildren are sweet rewards of a life well-lived.
Why are grandparents so special?
They are our link between the past and the future.
They are more experienced at raising children, are more relaxed and have more life experiences to draw from when they are interacting with their grandchildren.
They are usually more financially stable and have more time to enjoy their grandchildren.
With the wisdom that comes from age and experience, they can guide their grandchildren with love and tenderness.
They can act as a buffer between grandchildren and parents during a family conflict; many children consider their grandparents a ‘port in the storm’.
They understand that their grandchildren are their legacy. As my friend Nancy explains, I have a grandson who was born in 1999. I keep a journal for him – it is possible that he will be able to read those stories to his grandchildren in the year 2070- nearly 120 years after my birth. My grandchildren are my link to future, my way of extending my heart to family members that I will never live to meet.
Modern Culture and Grandparents
The role of grandparents has diminished in modern culture for many reasons. In the old days, grandparents often lived in the same home as their grandchildren. Today’s senior citizens tend to be healthier and more likely to live independently. Our society’s higher divorce rates often leads to estrangement between grandparents and their grandchildren. And children today are involved in more interests, with sports, music lessons and other activities taking up much of their time. With today’s hectic lifestyles parents often fail to set aside time for their grandparents.
On the other hand, some grandparents are taking on a more crucial role in their grandchildren’s lives by raising their grandchildren as their own. Contributing to this situation are unwanted teen pregnancies, maternal depression, parental drug use, legal problems, etc. Social service agencies state that of all the relatives they approach when a child is in need, the grandparents are the ones most likely to agree to care for the child.
In either scenario, the parents may think the grandparents are ‘interfering’ or ‘in the way’, but what must be remembered is that grandparents want the best for their grandchildren and can play a vital role in their grandchildren’s development. With my fond memories of my grandparents gentle in my heart. I can confirm that the bond between a grandparent and a child is very special. I pay tribute to my grandparents every morning in my prayers.
*The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher. He is a recipient of several research awards and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapter on psychiatric illnesses and their treatments. He is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for NAMI for Greater Cleveland. If you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms that would lead you to believe that there could be a mental imbalance, please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at ask firstname.lastname@example.org Each Wednesday, Dr. Ranjan will address some of these questions in this column. All contact info will be kept confidential.