Grandparents and Elderly

by Innocent Maziya

In 2021, Pope Francis announced the establishment of the international day to honour grandparents and the elderly.

This day takes place on the fourth Sunday of July each year and is closely associated with the feast day of the grandparents of Our Lord Jesus, St. Anne and St. Joachim. In announcing the day, His Holiness pointed out that “The Holy Spirit … arouses thoughts and words of wisdom in the elderly today: their voice is precious because it sings the praises of God and guards the roots of peoples. They remind us that old age is a gift and that grandparents are the link between generations, to transmit to young people an experience of life and faith.” The Pope cautions us that grandparents are often forgotten and we forget this wealth of preserving and passing on the roots of our faith and of our very humanity.

By establishing the international day to honour grandparents and the elderly, His Holiness is encouraging us to keep them in our minds and particularly in our prayer and to always care for them.

In African culture, and particularly in the culture of Emaswati, the elderly are valued members of society. They are part of our daily lives and we constantly consult them when making important family decisions. This value that we have on the elderly was never more pronounced than during the AIDS pandemic and the period subsequent to it. During that time we saw the elderly stepping in to take active roles in the parenting of children whose biological parents were critically ill or already deceased, literally sacrificing their own lives in the process. Most of these grandparents had to take care of their dying children and in the process got infected themselves and ended up dying.

Even when both parents are still alive, grandparents play a huge role in the formation of their grandchildren. Most of us have our children at a time when our careers are taking off or at the peak of our careers. At this point we tend to channel most of our energies towards establishing ourselves professionally or ensuring that we provide for our families. This takes away the time and attention that our children need. Even when we do get time, we are more worried about their schoolwork and their future careers. For this reason we tend to adopt a very disciplinarian attitude towards them.

Moreover, we usually raise our children when we have very limited knowledge on how to raise children. It is only after a few years of trial and error and trial again that we just begin to get it right. By that time the children are ready to have their own. It is then that we need to transition to the role of grandparenting and share what we have learnt the hard way and, more than likely, at the expense of our own children.

Grandparents tend to love unconditionally and will give love and attention whether children have done their chores or not. Sometimes, even when the children have been very naughty. It is this unconditional love that is critical in our lives and particularly in our formative years. As Christians we place great value on unconditional love, simply because we have received it from God, as we read in the Gospel of Saint John in chapter three verse 16. We understand that unconditional love brings with is a sense of self value and self-worth, forms stronger family bonds and creates a strong Church and society at large.

We see a lot of transactional ‘love’ these days, probably because we grew up knowing that we needed to earn love in order to get it. Grandparents are under no pressure, unlike parents, and are able to give this unconditional love. I have often heard that children who are raised by their grandparents tend to be spoilt. This is probably because of the unconditional love that grandparents give. So children need a healthy balance between the love they receive from their parents and the love they receive from their grandparents.

It is therefore our duty as a Church, as communities, as families and as parents to honour the elderly in our midst and to maintain the relationship they have with their grandchildren.

The International Day for Grandparents and the Elderly this year will take place on the 23rd of July, the Sunday before the feast of Sts. Anne and Joachim, the grandparents of Jesus.

The theme for the day, selected by the Pope, is “His mercy is from age to age” (Lk 1:50).