Last week’s news that grandparents are good for children’s early development will come as no surprise to parents or, indeed, grandparents themselves. If babies bothered to read the newspaper, they’d chortle in agreement too.
The role of grandparents as childminders is hardly new. Extended families have been the norm in most societies across most of the planet for most of human history. It is the nuclear family iolated in the suburbs that is peculiarly modern.
Grandparents are coming back as families shrink. China’s one child policy has resulted in family setups known as the 4-2-1s. Four grandparents and two parents all focus on one child, often spoiling s/him rotten in the process.
In southern Europe, 85 per cent of people live within five kilometres of where they were born and machismo has been replaced by mamismo as increasing numbers of thirty-something males remain at home so mum can continue to cook and wash for them.
Australia’s ongoing obsession with the suburban dream, personal space and instant satisfaction mean we still consider it normal to exclude our parents from our lives, often condemning them to battery farming for their pension cheques.
Inclusion them in the extended family is not only good for babies but the elderly as well. As Beryl King of Coraki said in this journal last Thursday, â€œI’d be lonely without them all.â€
The extended family is not just good for us, it is also good for future generations.
Building a house for every couple and supplying that house with its own laundry, garage, lawnmower, clothes dryer, refrigerator (you can complete your own list) steals resources from your grandchildren because we used them once and throw them away. We burn irreplaceable fossil fuel driving from house to house because staying home alone is too lonely. As it vanishes, literally, in a puff of carbon dioxide it causes extra problems that we can only speculate on.
The granny flat is almost a caricature of a community but is better than nothing, even though the housing crisis means they are overpriced and under maintained.
As we move into an era of severely limited economic growth, the generation that survived the depression can teach us all a thing or two even if we are toilet trained and can speak for ourselves. Bring on the grey power and lets remember to learn from the past.
Giovanni is the founder of the Ebono Institute and radio show The Generator