I’m happy to be cast as a spoilsport

Ellen Widdup’s escape to the country

THE reason my children and their grandparents get along so well is that they have a common enemy – me. Let me give you an example. It’s 7.30pm. My parents are round for dinner and my five-year-old daughter is pushing to be allowed to stay up late to eat with us.

“It’s so unfair,” she says for the umpteenth time, glowering at me.

“It does seem a little unfair,” my mother agrees. “It’s so lovely for us to see the kids. Surely an hour with the grown-ups could be allowed?”

They look at each other, a conspiratorial smile dancing on their lips, and then over at me, eyebrows raised.

Of course I give in. I’m out-numbered.

And three hours later I have a tearful, exhausted child who is refusing to go upstairs, a husband sighing dramatically, a ruined meal and a headache.

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At the end of the evening, with my daughter wailing in my arms, we say goodnight and my parents drive off into the night.

That’s the gem for the generation once removed. They can love their grandchildren unconditionally, spoil them rotten and then hand them back to their parents and walk away.

It irks me somewhat that I am, more often than not, the bad guy who stands in the way.

But according to a new report published this week this is because I fall between the two ages at which you most enjoy life.

The survey, backed by psychologists, found that people are most carefree at the ages of nine and 68, with 20- to 40-year-olds too busy juggling emotional, social, financial and career pressures to relax.

Almost half of the children questioned – 47% – said they found grandparents more fun than any other family member.

The report concluded: “Children and their grandparents are each at a stage in their life when they are discovering or rediscovering the boundaries by which most of us live our lives.

“The young and the older grasp life with both hands – making for that great grandchild-grandparent compatibility.”

When I look at my parents with my children I can see this is true.

My son, at age two-and-a-half, will follow my father around the house, asking incessant questions about what he is doing. If you quiz him on who his best friend is he will immediately pipe up: “Grandpa, of course.”

Likewise, my daughter has a very special relationship with her granny. The love affair began on the day she was born.

My mother, who was one of my birthing partners, was the first person to see her lifted into the light, all flailing limbs, red face and screaming mouth.

When my daughter was nine months old and I went back to work she offered to look after her.

At that point she joined the millions of grandparents in the UK who supply �33 billion worth of free day care.

Figures suggest that granny and grandpa provide 40% of childcare for working parents and more than 70% of childcare at other times.

I’m quite sure this arrangement is not always as attractive for grandparents as it is for their children and grandchildren.

My mother never complained but I often felt guilty for burdening her.

The comedy writer Gene Perret once said: “An hour with your grandchildren can make you feel young again. Anything longer than that and you start to age quickly.”

I imagine my mother-in-law might agree with that one.

She comes to visit regularly from her home in Yorkshire, arriving on a Friday night full of energy and with bags full of gifts for her grandchildren.

On Saturday morning she is up at 6am, dishing up breakfast, and then she spends all day running round after my son and indulging my daughter’s every whim.

On Sunday she is utterly exhausted and seems almost relieved to be finally waving goodbye.

I asked my daughter recently what she loved most about her grandparents.

She thought long and hard about it before replying decisively: “They always make me feel happy and safe.”

I understand this.

Both my grandfathers died when I was a child but I am lucky enough to still have my paternal grandmother. She is well into her 90s but full of energy, a sparkle in her eyes and always ready to offer her advice and love whenever I need it most.

My maternal granny died five years ago. She was unique, to say the least. When she gave you a cuddle and you were snuggled up in her cloud of perfume, nothing else really mattered. She left big red lipstick marks on your cheek and she didn’t just laugh but chuckled so much so that her glasses toppled down her nose and her face went red.

My cousin once described her as “a teenager with grey hair” – her naughty streak delighting all 12 grandchildren and often infuriating her own four children.

I miss her desperately.

Tomorrow is Grandparents’ Day across the UK. Another of those “Hallmark Holidays”, a phrase used in the US to describe days earmarked primarily for commercial purposes.

I’m not usually one to fall for such smaltz but actually grandparents really deserve the recognition.

I always think it must be a magical moment to become a grandparent for the first time. To have the chance to reinvent yourself entirely as Granny, Grandpa, Nana, Grandma or Pops and take on the coveted role of pal and pamperer.

A grandparent has the three things a parent doesn’t – patience, knowledge and experience.

They also know better than most that time goes by so quickly that you need to savour every moment.

This gives them carte-blanche to break all the rules and defy paranoid parents whose sleepless nights leave them frazzled and bad-tempered.

My children are extremely lucky to have grandparents who cherish them.

And if their relationship means I am cast in the role of spoilsport, so be it.

After all, a grandparent has a chance to enjoy all they were too busy to enjoy as a parent. I look forward to my turn.

Email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on Twitter @EllenWiddup.