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What India Taught Me About Respecting Grandparents And Elders

09/05/2016 8:05 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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A child sitting with her grandmother on a bench in the park.

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Image source: Personal archive of the author

I still cherish the memories I have of my paternal grandfather. I remember how, when I was a small girl, he'd read the Bible to me, take me to church, make my favourite breakfast, let me play the rider to his horse. During the war time in Bosnia and Herzegovina he used to take me with him to nearby villages for family visits--we'd have to go by foot as there was no public transport or petrol available. We'd walk for long hours and I can only imagine how slowly he must have moved to match my tiny steps.

My maternal grandmother would feed me my favourite fruits when I came to visit. She'd also order a homemade cheese I loved from a neighbourhood lady. She'd always save some chocolates or some other surprise gift to give me when I would be leaving. As a teenager, I coveted a scarf I could not afford, so my grandmother knitted a similar one for me.

It's almost as if the parents are keeping the grandparents away from the kids to "protect" them and make sure nobody else is intervening in their parenting methods.

Nowadays, I see my close friends and family members raising their children with minimal involvement from the grandparents. It's almost as if the parents are keeping the grandparents away from the kids to "protect" them and make sure nobody else is intervening in their parenting methods.

Friends in my home country often complain about how difficult they find it to manage with small children, especially if they are working. Yet, they are not comfortable leaving their children with grandparents; on the off chance they do leave the kids, the little ones spend the whole time crying for the mother.

In India, on the other hand, I see how children growing up in joint families develop a sort of "independence" from their parents. They are comfortable talking, playing, staying, or even travelling alone with their grandparents, uncles and aunties, cousins... and they almost do not even notice that the parents are not around. It is difficult for me to imagine this in my home country, where children spend all of their time with their parents and start crying even when mommy goes to the bathroom.

In India, I see how children growing up in joint families develop a sort of "independence" from their parents.

Working mothers here in India have a big advantage in that they can leave their children with grandparents and aunties. They can peacefully work long hours in the office knowing that the kids are in good hands. The children are more sanguine too and don't cry or miss their parents so much as they are habituated to staying with other family members.

Although nuclear families are the norm in Western countries, I believe we can learn something from India about the importance of nurturing closer ties with the grandparents. Our children could benefit greatly if they could spend more time away from their parents and with their grandparents and other family members--it would help them develop attachments outside the immediate family, improve their social skills, learn family values and build childhood memories which they will carry for a lifetime. The parents can get some time off from the daily grind of parenting too.

We can behave, act, and think totally differently from our parents or grandparents...but that is not a good enough reason to label them as "outdated", "oldies".

I think we can get a wonderful message from the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel that highlights the contrast between the West, where elder people are sort of marginalized in society, and India, where they are venerated, their blessings sought by a respectful touching of their feet. The lead character in the movie comes up with an idea that it would be good "business" to run a place where elder people from other countries could come to live in India and enjoy their golden years to the fullest, for very less money. They could have much more fun and the opportunity to even get a job or find some deeper meaning and purpose by sharing their life lessons and vast experience.

The fact is that elders have spent a lifetime gaining wisdom that they can share with us. We might not always agree with them, and their views might sometimes be at odds with our modern "perspective", yet they can help us to see things differently, from another "angle" which we might not have thought of.

We should treat our elders the way we'd like to be treated when we are old.

The world keeps on changing. We can behave, act, and think totally differently from our parents or grandparents, and that is totally all right, but that is not a good enough reason to neglect their advice or push them in the corner labelling them as "outdated", "useless" and "oldies". We can still listen to what they have to say and respect their opinion as they have a lifetime of experiences behind them.

One day our children and grandchildren will think of us as "outdated" in the same way. We should keep in mind that we will not be young forever. We should treat our elders the way we'd like to be treated when we are old.

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