Young people hold the key to Britain’s future, but their elders have blocked the keyhole
There are 14 million grandparents in the UK. This means that around three quarters of the 18.7 million Britons who are over 54 years old are grandparents. Since the early 1940s, when we were both born, there has been a huge change in the role of grand-parents in the family. Now that most mothers go out to work, grandparents play a hugely important function in helping in grandchild care. One in four working families depends largely on grandparents for child care, a service valued at £17 billion per year.
Most grandparents, even if they don’t take on a carer’s role, sense a feeling of great joy when their first grandkid appears on the scene. Most of them eagerly look forward to spending time with their grandchildren. From our own experience as newish grandparents, we know what fun and how fascinating it is to watch them growing from crawling to walking and to uttering their first words; to read them bedtime stories, to play football together. It won’t be long before our grandson makes us feel like stone-agers as he quickly becomes a master of modern communications.
Some “grans” find their new role stressful and exhausting, especially if they feel that they are being “used” as baby-sitters by their children, mainly to save money.
The bonds of affection that develop between children and their grandparents are deep and usually last for life. It is natural for grandparents, who have escorted their charges to and from school, to remain interested in their education and in their unfolding careers. One in four mortgages in Britain is partially financed by the buyer’s grandparents. Not surprisingly, many grandchildren stay close to their grandparents as they age.
Given the depth of this relationship between old and young it is surprising that each group voted so differently in the EU referendum. Around two thirds of the grandparent generation – the over 65s – voted to “leave” the EU, while over 70% of their voting grandchildren (18 to 24 years old) signalled their wish to “remain”. More than half of those aged between 25 and 49 – the parent generation – also voted to “remain”, presumably thinking that this would be the best outcome for millions of their children.
The fact that the “leave” camp scored most votes means that, unless there is a change of heart before a Brexit deal is sealed, our children and grandchildren will have to lead their whole lives, locked into a future that they clearly did not want. When we look back on the close relationships we have enjoyed with our offspring, it is easy to grasp why they are now so perplexed that we who face just a few more years of life should have trapped them into a future outside the EU.
Neither protests nor incitements to violence by hot-headed young “remainers” will help to resolve the issue.
We are pretty sure that few grandparents deliberately intended to block the aspirations of their offspring to stay in the EU. Even if they wish to stick to their personal views on the issue, this should not stop grandparents from signalling their respect for the aspirations of the younger generations of their family and from admitting that greater weight should given to the expressed hopes of the young at a time when the referendum results are translated into proposed actions.
This gesture alone will go a very long way towards healing the deep inter-generational splits within families that are so disturbing to those of us who place a high value on family harmony and happiness.
Perhaps our fellow grandparents, when they reflect on how to assure their grandchildren a fairer deal, should bear in mind that already our children are the main contributors to our pensions and to the NHS. If we act sensibly, they may even care for us in our final days!
We owe them a lot.