It was a short journey from my home to the grocery store using one of our means of transportation for short distances. The three-wheeler took the popular Toyin Street, Ikeja, route and an elderly woman flagged it down.
As she got in, she sat leaning forward with her hands on the dividing rail between the driver’s cabin and the passengers’. She was backing a profusely wailing toddler.
The little girl was crying with mucus streaming down her nostrils as she pulled at the woman’s grey hair from underneath her scarf in protest.
From what I observed to be a rough blend of helplessness and anger, the elderly woman loosened the tightness of the fold around her emaciated chest and slid the crying child forward from behind. With the toddler still crying, the woman brought out the pet bottle of a carbonated drink and offered it as appeasement but the child threw more tantrums.
I immediately knew the little child was hungry and wanted food, not what the old woman was offering her.
The woman made a statement that got my attention. She said in the pidgin language, out of annoyance, when she couldn’t calm the little child, “I don’t know where your mother is now… she would be enjoying herself where she …I took care of her, now, I’m taking care of you…” The grandma who looked like someone in need of care was in charge of a growing, hungry, and active child.
The statement she made in her moment of helpless annoyance pointed to inward private conversations.
Our culture of communalism has held our communities and families together. Because we lack the adequacy of an effective social system, as there is in western countries, families, and not the is the support of people who grew up in this part of the world.
Relatives take care of the social and economic wellbeing of those members who cannot afford the means. One of the virtues of communalism is sharing and caring.
In our culture, we take care of the aged. It is more of the duty of the children to take care of their parents but in a reverse questionable manner, there is a contrary belief.
The belief is that the grandparent is a convenient source of care for their grandchildren, especially when unpleasant circumstances trail the conception of those children. It is common to see adult children give their kids to their parents if questionable situations surround the birth.
A woman who has a child out of wedlock may leave that child with her parents or hide the child there to appear as a single lady who has never given birth to prospective suitors.
A man who got a lady pregnant without the intent of a permanent relationship union may assume responsibilities for the child by giving him/her to his parents so as not to be burdened with his/her care. In other instances, children with special needs are taken to their grandparents’ homes.
We see a lot of elderly people who are physically weak with age, saddled with young children (whom we can assume are their grandchildren) as they walk slowly along.
Though our parents may look older to us, most people don’t understand that their strength and knowledge of discipline have declined with their age.
Elderly parents cannot possess those qualities of strength they had and used when they were in their prime. Over time, parents grow weaker in strength, with (sometimes) obsolete methods of childcare and training. And in many ways, they no longer have the skill to train a young child up, as they did when they had the rigour of strength in their youth.
While they may have wisdom with age, they cannot possess the physical might to handle the often-physical tasking rigour needed for a growing child. In some extreme cases, which seem quite prevalent, some of these elderly people don’t have the financial capabilities to adequately take care of their grandchildren.
Some individuals believe that their parents must take care of their grandchildren and they make the grandparents feel guilty when they do not receive physical assistance from them.
At their older ages, our parents need care, attention and affection. As they grow older, a lot of them lose childhood friends and relatives, people with whom they’d shared lovely memories. They often get lonely and frightened because they cannot control the loss of their youthful strength and vitality which points to the fact that they also need care and understanding of their children, not the burden of caring for their grandchildren as they did for their children.
The grandchild (ren) can go spend some time with the grandparents but saddling them with childcare responsibilities isn’t fair to them. At their advanced age, they should be left to enjoy their lives and this sometimes has little to do with the financial capabilities of the children.
Oftentimes, what the elderly want is to have their children and grandchildren around them to share in the bond of loving togetherness. While parents want their children to be prominent and attain the peak of their endeavours, with financial comfort, they are a lot more fulfilled with children who lead meaningful lives.
There are circumstances in which grandparents have no choice but to take care of their children’s children. However, parents of young children should not think that their children are the responsibilities of their parents.
As much as our communal setting has helped us, there are certain aspects of our lifestyle that should be remoulded to include considerations for our aging generation.
When they got to their destination, the elderly woman alighted with a smile on her face and with words of gratitude on her lips. After the child remained inconsolable, I patted her (without success either) and gave her grandmother a N1000 to buy food for her granddaughter. Her smile captured appreciation.
I got another epiphany about caring for the elderly: if children are not financially responsible to their older parents, they should, at least, give them peace of mind.