My 12-year-old son does not respect his 70-year-old grandfather, though we live in the same house. He gets irritated if questioned, impatient if his grandfather is slow and is sometimes downright rude. If I reprimand him, he pretends the old man doesn’t exist. My busy husband has no time for his father either (nothing I can do about that), who feels hurt and dejected. I’m horrified that my son treats his grandfather so callously.
You’ve put the finger on the problem yourself, when you say that your husband has no time for his father. Your son is taking cues from his father, and then going one step further in showing open rudeness and disrespect because he’s an adolescent. Moreover, when he began to be dismissive or short with his grandfather, and nobody took it seriously, he must have assumed it was okay.
Affection and respect come naturally to some kids, because of how they are and because of the atmosphere and clear vibes in the house about how elders are to be treated. In other homes, the sad truth is that the overall attitude to older people ranges from neglect to out-and-out abuse.
Today, many parents and grandparents complain that children, especially after the age of six or seven, show no respect or concern for the old people in their family. Even if they are not out-and-out rude, they tend to ignore the elderly, make no special time for them, and show impatience and irritation towards them.
On the other hand, common complaints from children are: “Ajji lectures too much; Dada keeps repeating himself; Grandpa walks too slowly; Grandma takes too much time over something; Nana snores too loudly; Nani keeps asking me to do chores…”
The situation calls for a three-generational understanding of one another:
1)Listen when your children complain about a grandparent’s possibly irritating habit—like snoring heavily, or being neglectful of bodily hygiene, or using the bathroom in a messy way, and other such things. There is no point simply telling children to shut up when they voice their irritation. However, children have to be taught to put up with it to some degree—not because they have no choice, but because these things are a natural part of ageing.
2)Insist that children maintain a certain degree of respect and thoughtfulness towards grandparents and continue to make time for them. However, sometimes grandparents too need to learn to let go a little and accept that children’s lives are full and busy.
3)Keep your criticisms of your parents (or in-laws) to yourself and avoid having children “in” on old, long-standing quarrels. Grandparents too need to avoid gossiping or complaining to grandchildren about their parents.
4)At times it may be difficult to remember this, but the fact is that elders do have a special contribution to make to the family, in spite of failing physical or mental health—communicate this to your children via your own attitudes and behaviour towards the elderly. That’s how you can get them to value a grandparent, despite the other possibly troublesome aspects of an ageing person’s presence.
Like all parenting posers, this one, too, is best handled by demonstrating your attitudes. It’s only if we deal with old age as a life stage, rather than some kind of disease, that our children will learn to be sensitive and compassionate with the old people in their family.
Write to Gouri Dange at firstname.lastname@example.org