Ten years ago, when I was a youngster of 50 and my children had grown up, I gave a speech at my 50th birthday party in which I predicted that my wife and I would spend the next decade travelling to all those exotic places we hadn’t so far been able to visit because of our family responsibilities.
Fast forward to a recent Saturday night, and you would have found us on the banks of the River Chess in Hertfordshire listening to the rain pouring down onto our tent during one of the wildest nights of our so-called summer. What had happened to destroy our plans? The answer, in short, was seven-year-old Emony, who was fast asleep in the tent next to us. Quite unexpectedly, we became grandparents in our early fifties, and decided to play a full part in bringing up our granddaughter, and we aren’t alone a recent survey suggested that 60% of children today see their grandparents at least once a week.
Being grandparents has had a dramatic impact on our lives instead of sailing up the Yangtze, we’ve spent recent summers on Cornish farms or in French villas large enough to take most of the family. And just because you’re the grandparent, rather than the parent, doesn’t mean you bypass the sulking, the temper tantrums, the infuriating cry of ‘I’m bored’ five minutes after you’ve finished a long game of Snakes and Ladders. So why did we do it? Partly because we were asked.
This is crucial if the parents don’t want you to be involved, there’s not much you can do about it. Partly because we’re able to we’re lucky to have the money and the good health to give time to our grandchildren. And partly because I liked the idea of having another go. To have such an influence on a young life is a tremendous responsibility, and this time round I thought I could give it the time and perhaps a little more wisdom than I was able to at the first attempt.
Being a grandparent can be a wonderfully rich experience. You’re able to provide the special treats, such as visits to London shows or the occasional long weekend at a child-friendly hotel, which hard-up parents find difficult to manage. However, far more important than that, you’re able to give your grandchild the time that frantic parents can’t always give.
One of our favourite activities is staying in on a Saturday night and involving Emony in the cooking of a meal. It’s a ritual we all love. Much to the hilarity of my wife and children, I was even persuaded to take her camping, hence that night in Hertfordshire, which I had resolutely resisted in the past. This is one of the great benefits of being a grandparent: doing all those things you were too busy or too unimaginative to do with your own children.
Instead of settling into a comfortable late middle age, I’ve listened to modern music, hurtled down hair-raising water slides and seen more films than I care to count. And I’m very grateful for the experience. We’re still learning, of course. I’m still not sure about table manners, for example. I think it might be the grandparents’ job to teach her these, but I have perfectly sane friends who disagree. However, for the moment at least I’m determined to do it the privilege of being a grandparent is that you can lay down the law sometimes.
‘The Really Useful Grandparents’ Book’ by Tony Lacey and Eleo Gordon is published by Viking at £18.99
How to be the perfect grandparent
? Keep fit. You want to be able to play that game of cricket with them
? Stay friendly with the child’s parents. You and the child have everything to lose from a falling out
? Get cooking. It’s a shared experience, an opportunity to talk and teaches the importance of mealtimes
? Be open to their experiences. Introduce them to the things that matter to you (Emony loves art galleries), but you can feel invigorated by the music and films they like, too
? Seek out situations with other children. It’s not fair for the child to spend all her time with adults (and it’s exhausting for you, too)