Some Asian Grandparents Are Concerned About …

To Young

By Venessa Lee

Young grandparents may experience other kinds of conflicted feelings about arriving at a stage of life earlier than expected, says Ms Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society.

Grandparents

Venessa Lee

When her daughter gave birth to a baby girl, Ms L. Loh found it hard to accept becoming a grandmother at the age of 43.

She asked her granddaughter to call her “auntie”, but the girl, now five, persisted in calling her “ah ma”.

Putting aside the joy of welcoming a new addition to the family, becoming a grandparent in your 40s and early 50s can be unsettling. There can be an uncomfortable period of self- scrutiny, with conflicting emotions.

Some, like Ms Loh, a manager in the logistics industry, feel that being called “grandma” or “grandpa” makes them feel old. Others, like Mr Mohd Shariff Mohd Yatim, 55, feel they want to look more mature.

When his first grandchild, Ryanna Sofia Raihan, was born five months ago, he grew a beard. The executive director of Jamiyah Halfway House, a rehabilitation centre, wanted to signal – to others and himself – that he was “ready to lead as a grandfather”.

But when people started offering him their seats in public places, he felt embarrassed.

Young grandparents may experience other kinds of conflicted feelings about arriving at a stage of life earlier than expected, says Ms Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society. Some have to set aside projects or plans. Some may still be working and feel guilty about the limited time they can spend with their grandchildren, especially if they have their own children to care for.

Some are unhappy that their unwed teenaged children become parents.

But those The Sunday Times interviewed say there are more advantages than disadvantages to their early grandparenthood.

A constant refrain is that young grandparents have more energy to keep up with their grandchildren.

Housewife, Loh Lay San, was 52 when her grandson came along. Since her daughter Jessica’s four-month-long maternity leave ended, she has been taking care of Jeremiah, now nine months old, with the help of her maid.

Ms Loh, now 53, takes Jeremiah for walks in the morning in the grounds of her condominium, looking out for squirrels and snails. She often takes him swimming.

At the end of the day, she sometimes goes for a pilates class or gym session on the elliptical machine.

Young grandparents also tend to have more in common with their adult offspring when it comes to child-rearing, which can lead to closer family ties.

Indeed, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, 54, who became a grandfather on New Year’s Eve last year when his daughter Natalie gave birth to her first child, had told The Straits Times: “I have always believed that it is good to start early. We are glad our daughter heeded our advice.”

But for manager Ms L. Loh, now 49, the feeling that she was too young to be a grandmother stemmed from her own experience.

She had struggled as a young mum herself. A year after she married at 18, she had the first of her four children.

She felt that her daughter, who married at 21 and had her first child a year later, was “too young” to be a mother. She says: “I was worried she might go through the same situation as me. Handling career and kids at the same time is challenging and requires support.”

Ms Loh’s in-laws had helped her care for her infant. She had yearned for more support from her own mother, though she understood later that her mum, who worked as a dishwasher, was “too busy” caring for Ms Loh’s four other siblings. Her father, she says, was frequently not at home during her childhood.

But her concerns about being a grandmother faded eventually.

Her daughter, the second of her four children, moved in with her for a few months after giving birth. The time she spent with her daughter and grandchild made her see “the joy of seeing children growing day by day”.

Her daughter, a 27-year-old sales executive, now has three daughters, aged between one and five.

Going by demographic trends, grandparents who are no older than 55 look to be increasingly scarce. Women in Singapore are having children later and fewer people are getting married, which means grandparents are likely to be older and fewer.

The median age of Singapore citizens when they have their first child was 30.3 in 2014, up from 29.2 a decade earlier, according to a report released last year by the National Population and Talent Division. There is no data publicly available regarding the median or average age of having one’s first grandchild.

According to sociologist Tan Ern Ser, a smaller age gap between the generations “translates into a narrower gap in terms of language, education, experience, interests and values”.

“There may be greater potential for forming cohesive three-generational households,” says the associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s department of sociology, who is also a council member at Families for Life, an organisation that promotes resilient families.

Indeed, public servant Jessica Bin, 25, says the relative youthfulness of her mum, Ms Loh Lay San, 53, and her dad, 57-year-old Tony Bin, means they share a similar parenting philosophy.

For instance, both sides agree on the importance of play and enjoying the outdoors for children, says Ms Bin’s husband, engineer Jerwin Aligguy, 27.

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This article was first published on Jan 24, 2016.
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