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Christmas joys are for grandparents

Among my contemporaries, most of whom are in their seventies and eighties, one great source of happiness and fulfillment is to be surrounded by their grandchildren (even great-grandchildren) and to help their married children tend to their apo.  In fact, a Taglish word has been coined: “apo-stolate,” to depict the gratifying task of helping in the upbringing of grandchildren.

I cannot think of other topics about which these friends of mine can talk more enthusiastically than the time they spend with, and the attention they lavish on, their apo. Grandparenting will become more and more part of the daily lives of numerous retired professionals as longevity or life expectancy is expected to increase to 80-85 years in the next 30 years, especially among women. Among higher-income households, grandparents will assume a greater role in the care of their grandchildren as both husband and wife among the millennials assume full-time professional careers and as nannies or yayas become scarcer with the increased industrialization of the country.

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It is unfortunate that not all societies, even those still developing, are able to retain the Philippine tradition regarding the role of grandparents. A report titled “Parenting by Proxy” (China Daily, 9/22-28/17) presented the case of a 63-year-old Chinese woman who was diagnosed with depression from the stress of caring for her grandchildren. This ignited a debate on social media over the “ethics” of young couples foisting child-raising responsibilities on their aging parents. The report focused on all the negative aspects of grandparenting: doing the housework while the married daughter is at work, living in constant fear of accidents or illnesses that the child could suffer under her watch, for which she could be blamed by her daughter or son-in-law, and being frequently awakened at night by the grandson, etc. I am sure these are worries that can also trouble Filipino grandparents. However, the spirit of self-sacrifice that is very common among our senior citizens usually helps them give little importance to the depressing elements and focus on the joys of helping care for grandchildren. These joys are deepened during the Christmas season.

I still remember with gratitude the example of my parents in their willingness to care for their grandchildren when some of my married siblings needed their help under certain special circumstances. My mother, who lived up to 102, spared no effort in giving support to her married children in the upbringing of their respective children. In turn, my mother, who outlived my father by 20 years, enjoyed living with one of my married sisters and being in the constant company of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren until the end of her life. I cannot imagine her being “depressed” because of the stress of helping care for her apo. Thanks to her example of giving of herself unselfishly to all of us, we also learned to care for one another.

In his apostolic exhortation titled “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis wrote about the importance of being attentive to the role of the elderly in families. He referred to how St. John Paul II asked us to be attentive to this primordial role because there are cultures, especially in the wake of disordered industrial and urban development, that have in the past and present set the elderly aside in unacceptable ways:

“The elderly help us to appreciate ‘the continuity of generations,’ by their ‘charism of bridging the gap.’  Very often it is grandparents who ensure that the most important values are passed down to their grandchildren and many people can testify that they owe their initiation into the Christian life to their grandparents. Their words, their affection, or simply their presence help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an age-old pilgrimage and that they need to respect all that came before them. Those who would break all ties with the past will surely find it difficult to build stable relationships and to realize that reality is bigger than they are. ‘Attention to the elderly makes the difference in a society. Does a society show concern for the elderly? Does it make room for the elderly?  Such a society will move forward if it respects the wisdom of the elderly.’”

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Bernardo M. Villegas (bernardo.villegas @uap.asia) is senior vice president of the University of Asia and the Pacific.

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TAGS: bernardo m. villegas, Business Matters, Christmas, Grandparents
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