Wednesday Wisdom

February 21, 2024

Across the Generations

By Patrick Cragg

Across the Generations


Over the half term holiday my family and I experienced a clash of cultures. Not the sort you might encounter on a trip abroad, caused by a foreign language, unfamiliar food or Mediterranean driving techniques. This was the culture clash of a family of four moving in for a week with a 70-year-old grandparent who lives alone.

Retired life for my father moves at a leisurely pace. The day begins with tea and toast around 9.30am. Nothing is so urgent that it can’t wait until another cuppa has been made or another “little sit down” has been had. Lunch is whenever he gets hungry: 2pm is not unusual. A popular news channel plays continuously in the background. A week with grandad is also an education in the country’s political outlook!

Life for my family with two primary-aged children begins, if you’re lucky, at 7am. After breakfast and a little TV time there’s nothing to be gained by staying indoors. Whatever we’re doing, let’s get there at 10am when it opens. After all, the children need lunch at 12. And dinner at 5. What’s the polite way to ask your retired father to show a bit more sense of urgency?

Like an army logistics corps, we took over the supply chain for the week. On a previous visit, grandad naively prepared for our arrival by ordering “an extra couple of pints of milk”. Needless to say, our two boys require a continuous supply of milk, bananas, cereal, bread, apples, cucumber, pasta and yoghurts. It seems that in the couple of decades since his own children moved out, my dad had forgotten the speed and scale of family operations.

But for all the awkwardness of transplanting our family into his house for a week, our visit was a wonderful reminder of how important grandparents can be. Purely because he doesn’t see my children very often, my father notices how they’ve changed and the new milestones they’ve reached. Seeing my children with their grandad allows me to see them through someone else’s eyes and realise how grown-up they’re becoming. Because he doesn’t have to deal with the daily grind of school runs, clubs, meals and bedtime routines, he can just enjoy the children’s company without any of the baggage or frustration that comes from everyday life.

Grandparents’ lives, from a child’s perspective, extended impossibly far back into the past. We took a trip to Manchester Transport Museum and it was the cue for a lesson in old buses, pre-decimal currency and daily life in the 1960s. Grandparents are the store-houses of the past: the memory of relatives I don’t remember, the events from 50 years ago that shaped today’s world. Even endless, cringe-worthy anecdotes about my own childhood play an important part: if I ever wonder how much of myself I’ve passed down to my children, the best person to answer that question is a grandparent.


Only a handful of species on the planet have a lifespan that extends past the age of producing children. Grandparents play a unique role in families and the communities around children and should be cherished for it!

This video created by UNICEF describes the special part that grandparents play in “rooting”, passing down the stories and wisdom that make children feel part of a family and a community with a past. They help to give children a sense of who they are.

Research from the University of Oxford has demonstrated that a high level of involvement from grandparents increases children’s wellbeing, with those children whose grandparents are highly involved in their lives experiences fewer emotional and behavioural problems. There is thought to be a particularly positive effect on families where the parents are divorced or separated. Grandparents are a source of stability and continuity.

Children see grandparents as occupying a unique role in their families: an authoritative adult who might be easier to open up to than a parent. As a report from the University of Hertfordshire puts it, grandparents provide children with “a relationship of love and trust that enables the children to use their grandparents as confidantes and counsellors as well as playmates and cookery instructors”. Importantly, their research indicates that the grandparent/grandchild relationship is equally beneficial for the grandparents, who report happiness and a sense of purpose and usefulness that comes from spending time with grandchildren.

Of course, in many families grandparents have an important logistical role in everyday life, with 80% of grandparents regularly playing a part in childcare. Having grandparents on hand to take children to school, offer a day’s care for a preschool child, or welcome them home while parents are still at work, can make a crucial difference when parents are trying to return to work.


Every family is different. As the parent in the situation, a visit to grandparents can be a mixture of enjoyment and stress, as you feel responsible for both your parents and your children having a good time.

It’s also normal that being in your childhood home, or in close proximity to parents you don’t live with, stirs up a lot of memories and emotions that you might rather not deal with. It also goes without saying that seeing your parents get old is difficult, and accepting the limitations that come with age can be a challenge when there are boisterous children to keep entertained.

Being realistic is important. Smaller, low-stakes days out can work better than expensive, tiring trips to zoos or theme parks that involve a lot of walking and waiting around. Try to accept that the day will move at a more leisurely pace than you might be used to at home. You might even relax rules on screen time if it will keep the children occupied for the time it takes the whole family to get ready.

Kinship is a UK charity that supports grandparents who are responsible for raising grandchildren in place of their parents. They work to connect carers to others in the same situation, offer practical advice and run workshops for carers.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

Family life and the quality of relationships we enjoy at home are a big focus for us in Tooled Up. We are fans of asking children about how we are all doing and how we are getting on and even have resources to support those chats! (tip: if you find siblings are fighting, get them to try this resource!).

We are also fans of encouraging a team approach to family life (in other words ensuring everyone plays their part with chores (don’t worry, doing chores is also excellent for children’s brain development, so you don’t need to feel mean for asking them!).

Even if far apart from grandparents, we can sustain closeness by video calling them and collecting their memories. We developed this resource for families during the pandemic and it is still proving popular as a great structure to help children to talk to their grandparents.

Professor Anna Tarrant of the University of Lincoln joined us for a webinar on the importance of grandparents and the role they play in children’s lives.

For parents who want to build connections with children, enjoy the whole range of conversations we have enjoyed with parent coach Dr Gauri Seth, family psychotherapist Dr Reenee Singh and Couples’ therapist, Sue Wintgens.

The good news is that for Brain Awareness Week in March, Dr Seth will be hosting a series of webinars for parents who want to understand how changes in our brain during key periods of life can affect our relationships! Explore our upcoming events here.