My grandson thought I didn't love him. So I learnt to understand his world.

Soft truths to keep Singapore from stalling.

Mothership| November 24, 09:50 AM

Nov. 24 is National Grandparents Day in Singapore. PN Balji, a veteran journalist, reflects on his experience with his grandkid, Arrian.

PN Balji has over 40 years' experience in journalism in Singapore spanning print, broadcast and digital journalism.

He has also provided communications advisory services to organisations in the public and private sector.

By PN Balji

I came across an Instagram post by my 11-year-old grandson, Arrian. This is what he said about my book, Reluctant Editor: “My grandfather (ahem) book is the (ahem) best seller. Feeling proud.”

Screenshot of post courtesy of PN Balji

My first instinct was to pull him up and point out the two mistakes he had made in his post.

But I pulled back and told him: Thank for you the lovely post. But there are two minor errors in that sentence. Mistakes do happen. One way to avoid them is to re-read what you had written. I do that all the time.

In a previous incarnation, I would have gone into overdrive criticising him and giving him a lecture on getting it right the first time.

My grandson thought I didn't love him

I have begun to be more patient and nurturing. The turning point came when I began to see how his parents dealt with him.

Arrian was not easy to deal with. He was boisterous, rebellious, impatient and extremely naughty. But they were extremely patient with him, highlighting his good points and not making a big deal of his bad traits.

Once, his father told me that Arrian complained about my behaviour towards him.

“Arrian says you don’t love him.”

Those words were like a spear piercing into my heart. Which grandfather doesn’t love his grandson?

Children today grow up in a very different generation

I went into a long period of introspection, replaying my interactions with him. A reality struck.

Today’s children are very different from those of the 80s and 90s. My daughters grew up with books and non-electronic toys; there were no mobile phones, laptops or other electronic gadgets to distract them.

Arrian’s generation is a whole lot different.

They are exposed to these marvels of the new world and it is a trend you cannot fight. They take to technology like fish to water and separating them from electronic gadgets will make them even keener for a bite of the forbidden fruit.

A better way to manage the matter is to let them have controlled use. Shine a light on the dark dangers lurking in the Internet world, restrict the time spent on electronic gadgets and monitor what they watch.

Learning to understand my grandson's world

As I got to understand Arrian and his world better, our relationship got better.

He has begun to ask me questions about my childhood, my parents and my job. And I have learnt to talk about his friends, interests and his desire to become an aeronautical engineer.

He is obsessed with how my car works, checking Google to find out about the different parts of the car and how they work. When I send it for servicing, I make it a point to take him with me. I don’t stop him when he shoots questions at the mechanic about how the engine works and how to spot problems.

He helped me discover the various functions of the car, like park assist, and discourages me from using my phone when I stop at a traffic junction.

This sweet-and-sour relationship with my grandson comes rushing back as families celebrate grandparents’ day this weekend. It is a relationship that needs to be emphasised as our children begin to lose their links with their culture and past as their lives are run by absentee parents and live-in helpers.

Grandparents complement parents

I have heard enough stories of the modern-day grandparent who sees his or her role as just being a playmate to his grandchildren.

One told me:

“I just want to have fun with the kids. This is like making up for lost time when I hardly had time with my children. I was too busy then, working long hours and becoming too tired to play with my children. Now that I am retired, I hope to partially erase that guilt. The best thing is that I don’t have any real responsibility for my grandkids. That belongs to their parents.’’

This attitude can complicate the relationship where the grandparents’ role can clash with that of the parents. I have seen this happen in many homes. The parents practise a regime which the grandparents, unwittingly perhaps, subvert.

Family tensions crop up regularly.

A simple example: The parents drill into their kids the need to cultivate healthy eating habits like a low sugar diet and restricted intake of high- fat food. But the grandparents’ home is packed with ice cream and sweets and frozen hamburgers.

Some parents are very particular that their kids talk to them and others in proper English. For sure, there is no such thing as baby talk. But the grandparents do just the opposite.

The conflicting messaging can not only confuse the kids but also make them believe that their parents are unfair to them.

I have come to realise that we grandparents are there to complement the role of the parents; we are not parents but adjunct parents whose duty is to be there when the parents need us to step in when needed.

Top photos courtesy of PN Balji