It is time to give Bubbe and Zeide their due

Grand­par­ents should be­come more, not less, in­volved in chil­dren’s lives

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

IN A re­cent case, the courts de­cided that, notwith­stand­ing a child hav­ing lived with his grand­mother for more than two years, he should now live with his fa­ther, newly re­leased from prison. The de­ci­sion raises im­por­tant ques­tions about the role of grand­par­ents in the lives of chil­dren. With child ne­glect on the in­crease — whether be­cause of poor par­ent­ing, fam­ily break­down, re­ces­sion and re­duced fam­ily fi­nances — what place do grand­par­ents have in to­day’s so­ci­ety? Grand­par­ents fre­quently play a sig­nif­i­cant role in car­ing for young chil­dren while their par­ents are at work. Ear­lier this year, there was de­bate about whether grand­par­ents should be re­mu­ner­ated as foster par­ents.

De­spite the char­ity Grand­par­ents Plus claim­ing that four in five teenagers say grand­par­ents are the most im­por­tant peo­ple out­side im­me­di­ate fam­ily, the re­al­ity is that most chil­dren are too busy to have reg­u­lar con­tact with their grand­par­ents, par­tic­u­larly as they get older.

Statis­tics pro­vided by the Depart­ment for Chil­dren, Schools and Fam­i­lies show an in­crease in the num­ber of adopted chil­dren and those looked af­ter by adults, other than their par­ents. It is es­ti­mated that there are over 200,000 grand­par­ents in the UK who are car­ing for their grand­chil­dren full-time.

Statis­tics are not avail­able on the num­ber of Jewish chil­dren who are adopted. Both Nor­wood and the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion for Adop­tion and Fos­ter­ing be­lieve the per­cent­age to be low as there is suf­fi­cient sup­port from other fam­ily mem­bers. This is an en­cour­ag­ing no­tion and its mes­sage should cer­tainly be re­in­forced. In the mean­time, the ac­tual sit­u­a­tion should per­haps be in­ves­ti­gated as mod­ern so­ci­ety in­creas­ingly side­lines grand­par­ents.

While the 1989 Chil­dren Act pri­ori­tises and re­in­forces the im­por­tance of kin­ship (fam­ily) place­ments, re­search has found that, in the ma­jor­ity of cases, kin­ship care is not given the pri­or­ity it de­serves. On di­vorce, chil­dren fre­quently be­come es­tranged from their grand­par­ents. If grand­par­ents ap­ply to the court for con­tact, they need the court’s per­mis­sion. Con­se­quently they have no greater le­gal stand­ing than a stranger.

Grand­par­ents are the link with one’s own his­tory and tra­di­tion. I have heard many Holo­caust sto­ries from my 88-year-old mother. How­ever vi­tal book-learn­ing is, it is no sub­sti­tute for per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

Bubbe and Zeide also of­fer a sense of be­long­ing and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with one’s roots and can of­ten act as im­par­tial judges, bridg­ing the gap be­tween par­ents and their chil­dren. So how can we re­verse the de­cline of grand­parental in­flu­ence? My teenage daugh­ters cite in­stances of some grand­par­ents com­mu­ni­cat­ing via Face­book or tex­ting.

Fam­ily pol­icy is to be a ma­jor po­lit­i­cal is­sue in the forth­com­ing gen­eral elec­tion and, un­less grand­par­ents gain the le­gal recog­ni­tion they de­serve, gen­er­a­tions may lose out on one of life’s most valu­able di­men­sions. Deborah Levy is head of the mat­ri­mo­nial depart­ment at WGS Solic­i­tors


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