Let grandparents be tetchy

There’s nothing wrong with being old and grumpy, writes  Julie Ihle.

First published in SMH in 2004

The other day I saw a notice for a “grandparent satisfaction course”.

The course promised to help grandparents become more effective and fulfilled. Not only would they gain a better understanding of their roles, they would learn how to be better grandparents in a world of change and how to maximise the “grandparenting experience”.

To many grandparents, this must be pretty insulting. It’s not as though these people haven’t had more than their fair share of suffering: 1950s food, for instance, 1970s fashion, 1980s music.

Now, not only do they find that their superannuation is worth half its 1999 value (thanks to a bunch of dotcom kids), there’s also society pressure to be satisfied and fulfilled grandparents. To become satisfied, they need to sit through a course run by some sanctimonious trainer who was born in 1982 and talks about “relating”. It’s enough to make anyone incontinent.

Why do grandparents have to be satisfied, anyway? Haven’t the organisers of grandparent satisfaction courses heard of grumpy old men and whingeing old bats? That’s what getting old is all about, isn’t it? A licence to be grumpy, cranky, and proud of it.

If you don’t believe me, just look at the bitchiness on the bingo floor, or the delight that old people take in driving at 17 kmh in the fast lane on the freeway. Not to mention dressing like a flowerpot, and frothing at the mouth whenever “online banking” or “government changes to superannuation law” are mentioned.

These courses won’t work, anyway. Grandparents should be allowed to go on being tetchy and erratic, just like in the classics. In fact, their grandkids probably like them that way; at least they know what to expect. Besides, trying to find the little ray of sunlight hidden inside every crackpot makes an interesting challenge.

The grandparents who have been on a course may be skilled up, but they are uptight, neurotic and paranoid about stuffing up the whole grandparent business. No one likes a paranoid person, let alone a paranoid, wrinkly person.

Grandparent satisfaction courses are only going to give the grandparents something more to worry about. They’re already worried about their super, and wetting the bed, and are still blaming themselves for letting the 1956 bit of hot stuff slip away. They don’t need the pressure of trying to look like sitcom grandparents with Bill Clinton hair and the stomach tone of Cher. Or the expectation their grandkids will be attractive and possibly bilingual and, thanks to the grandparenting skills, able to do calculus at age three.

No, leave wrinklies alone. They’ve suffered enough. Instead of grandparent satisfaction courses, invite all the grandparents in for a night of full-strength sherry bingo. That will leave them a lot more satisfied.

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