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I came home from hospital a week after the birth of my first child, an excited and proud first mum. As night fell, my daughter began to cry and cried all night long.  I realised then, that even though I was a trained nurse with many years’ experience, I was unprepared for the task of being a parent.

My husband who had never been around children was in the same dilemma. Luckily, my mother-in-law was there to help.

There is nothing like experience in any area of life to help those who are novices in their field. Parenting too can savour the wisdom of those who have gone before and be bolstered by the hands-on experience that our mothers and fathers had. Experiences that have been handed down from the generations before, each tweaking the information to suit the moment at hand.

However, in this modern, fast paced society, with multitasking at its fore, how valuable is the experience of the past generation? I know that the world has changed dramatically since I was a young mother and so have I.  The current dilemma for parents is one of “expectations vs time” and this seems to be at a greater dissonance now than it has ever been.  Often grandparents have more time than parents and less expectations.

It would seem that each generation has had to adapt to the trends of parenting that are resonating in society at the time.  My parents adopted the view that children should be ‘seen and not heard’. In my time, I decided that my children should have a voice, even if I struggled many a time with the noise of three girls in one household.  Everything has changed in parenting for the current generation, as they juggle a faster paced world with higher expectations and the influences of multimedia in their family lives.

In our modern world parents often have less time with their children. The time parents have with their children in the mornings is often task orientated, getting dressed and having breakfast before being dropped at daycare in the early morning.  The evenings, when parents are often exhausted from a day’s work, is again about dinner time, bath time and bedtime.  There is also the pressure for a parent to stay fit, look good, keep a clean home, and be a good friend to their cohort. Let’s not forget after school activities for children and evening activities for the parents and of course maintaining your relationship with your significant other.  There is no doubt that life is hectic and I’ve only listed the obvious things. I bet a parent could add ten things to this list in only a few minutes.

So where do grandparents fit into all of this?  Time is like a sponge, if grandparents were to step in and take over some of the responsibilities, before long, their time would become hectic too. Not that I am knocking this approach, parents need all the help that they can get. It’s a fine balancing act between sharing wisdom, experience and time.

I have been lucky enough to explore parenting with a parenting expert Dr Rosina McAlpine. Her grandmother was the most positive influence in her life and her grandmother’s statement “Don’t let anyone tell you there is anything you can’t do!” still resonates with her today. Together Rosina and I have brainstormed many different aspects of parenting and I have been inspired to be the best grandparent that I can be.  I truly wish that when I was a young parent, I knew the things about parenting that we know now.

Perhaps you’d like to take a moment now to reflect on your family, in particular your grandparents’ influence in your life. What’s the one thing that is still a positive influence in your life today?

Although I have a busy life, I am not time poor like my working adult children are. I am not frustrated by the pressures of the multitasking lives they have.  Yet even among these pressures they are still doing an amazing job of parenting and definitely better than I did at their age. But what I have to offer my grandchildren is a unique perspective, one with 60 years’ experience of life and a recently updated knowledge of parenting.  I just relish the opportunity to teach them something, whether it be a task or a life skill or a value that will hold them in good stead throughout their lives.  I see their beautiful faces and their curiosity for life as a sponge ready to take in knowledge. Now this is not to say my children don’t feel the same thing, it’s just that I am wanting to be on their team and playing whatever role I can to help shape my grandchildren into being loving and caring human beings that make a difference in the world.

As a parent, your beliefs and values may differ to that of your parents and siblings. This is often tricky in families as role modelling is an important way for children to learn. Grandparents need to honour each family’s way of parenting, while at the same time honouring the grandparent they want to be. This balancing act of understanding your children’s values and beliefs and also standing for your own, while at the same time letting go of the old patterns that you bring into your relationships, can sometimes feel like “tiptoeing through the tulips”.

Mistakes are everywhere, but my new mantra is “there are no mistakes only transitions”, when you don’t get something right the first time, you just keep on trying and adjusting until you find what works, that’s the transition period.

The one constant that underpins all relationships is love. I loved my parents and they loved me, I love my children and they love me, they love their children and their children love them. I love my grandchildren and they love me.  There is no doubt that everyone wants to be the best they can be: grandparent, parent and child. What love adds to the relationship is a solid foundation where understanding and forgiveness can flourish as a family strength.

To the parents; bringing up children today has its own challenges and I am inspired by all you achieve. Celebrate your success!

To the grandparents; being a grandparent is the gift the circle of life brings to you. It helps you put your own life into perspective and opens opportunities for you to be part of the next exciting generation and to make a significant and reciprocal difference to those you love.  All you need to be is the best grandparent you can be and come from a place of good intentions and love.

For the young parents reading this, as you uphold your grandparents for their life experiences, wisdom and love for you, remember, YOU exist because they existed. The circle of life continues through you and your children.

Don’t forget Sunday, 31 October is National Grandparents Day!

It’s all about celebrating the role grandparents and older people play in our society and in our lives. It’s not just about now, but what they have done in the past too. So, connect across generations and set aside the 31st to spend the day with your older loved ones and let them know how important they are to you.

Dr Robyn Mills PhD, BA Arts (Hons), MAPS,

Dr Robyn Mills PhD, BA Arts (Hons), MAPS,

Dr Robyn Mills has worked in the health field for 47 years, working in psychiatric units, emergency departments, in private practice and teaching at universities across several disciplines, including psychology, nursing and natural medicine. www.drrobynmills.com robyn@robynmills.com.au