That’s not an exaggeration, although I admit I am elated by that discovery. I myself became a grandfather last year, in July, to a radiant boy, Ocean. (If you think that’s a strange name, I had named his father Siddharta).
I graduated into another category of human being, a very special one. Other than homo sapiens, only a few other primates, whales and elephants, have such creatures as grandparents. Not only did grandparents ensure the survival of homo sapiens as a species that became thelord of the earth. Hundreds of thousands of years later, grandparents in the Philippines today are playing a very crucial role in taking care of a rather unique generation of Filipinos.
Because of the twin phenomena of massive migration of Filipinas abroad for work and the rise in teenaged motherhood, more and more grandparents are taking care of the emotional needs, acculturation, and, most importantly, the moral education of an entire generation of Filipinos.
I would not be exaggerating to say that without Filipino grandparents, we could have a generation of Filipinos deprived of emotional nurturing in their crucial young years that they are likely to be sociopaths.
Government, therefore, must give grandparents, ahem, like me — even if they’re still below 60 years old —more discounts and privileges than mere senior citizens, since they spend money and time for their grandchildren who are, to use that cliché, the future of our country. In fact, in the case of the United States, a study showed that 45 percent of grandparents there helped pay the living expenses of their grandchildren, and more than half spend money on their education.
I didn’t get to see any of my grandparents, so I had little interest in this category of human beings. I was surprised, though, that researching into this topic after I became one, I discovered that there have been countless scientific (mostly anthropological and sociological) studies on the role of grandparents in the survival of the human species that emerged 200,000 years ago.
The feature that has made us lords of the earth, our huge brains, made child birth so risky that more than half of mothers during the prehistoric stage died while giving birth. With that kind of a casualty rate due to child birth and with no mother to take care of the infant — and other factors such as disease, wars and accidents — mankind would have perished a few thousands of years after it emerged.
But thanks to grandparents, humanity survived. In that era, when a mother died in childbirth, it was the grandmother who survived her own period of having children who would take care of the helpless child — with the father mostly out somewhere in the wild hunting. Sometimes the grandmother even had to do multitasking, taking care of the child while at the same time foraging for food, like wild berries around the campsite.
Due to the size of our brains, humans had to be born premature, before the skull grew to its final size. While the babies of most animals could live on their own, hours or days after they were born, those of humans required care for as long as four years before they could survive in the wildness of the prehistoric era. The father also led a very risky life hunting saber-toothed tigers or mammoths in the wild, and so chances were high that he would have died before his child could take care of himself. The few grandfathers took care of their sons.
The role of grandmothers in mankind’s survival has even become a well-known “grandmother hypothesis” to explain female menopause. One summary of this hypothesis “states that as mothers age, the costs of reproducing become greater, and energy devoted to those activities would be better spent helping her offspring in their reproductive efforts. “By redirecting their energy onto those of their offspring — which they are forced to do with the onset of menopause — such mothers can better ensure the survival of their genes through younger generations.”
Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, even did a computer simulation on this hypothesis, and one of her conclusions was the following: “Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention.” This trend, Hawkes says, drove the increase in brain size, along with longer lifespans and menopause.
These ideas are not just theoretical, and have been the conclusions of actual research on existing primitive societies, such as a hunter-gatherer tribe in Tanzania. “After examining a large body of evidence from traditional human societies, the evidence suggested that the presence of some grandparents can substantially increase the chances of a child surviving during the high risk period of infancy and childhood,” according to a study by Dr. David Coall from the University of Western Australia.
Grandparents today continue to play a crucial role in society. Research in the US and the West concluded that 8 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their values and behaviors. “Grandparents transmit to their grandchildren the values and norms of social order. Without such intergenerational continuity, some theorists say “the stage is set for conflict and disruptive change, not only within the family but also in the broader society,” one study concluded.
Other studies in Switzerland and Australia concluded: “Grandparents’ practical and financial support helps keep youngsters fit and healthy, while their love and ability to listen helps children and teens get through difficult periods such as the divorce of their parents.”
I suspect the role of grandparents in the Philippines is more crucial. The Unicef estimated from its survey that 4 million Overseas Filipino Workers have left at least 3 million children in the country, mostly toddlers. The study claimed that the case of mothers working abroad is a worse scenario, as fathers do not provide the same kind of motherly nurturing needed by the child left behind.
Crucial to society
Who takes care of these children left by OFWs?
The grandparents, and even grandfathers — learning perhaps from the past, or wanting to relive it — are more caring of their grandchildren and more doting to them than to their own children before.
Grandparents have also become crucial in our society because of the drastic rise in the number of teenaged mothers. This is the result of the decline of puritan attitudes toward sex (and easier access to pornography), combined with the limited availability of and education on the use of contraceptives, due to Catholic Church dogma against it. A report “Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey”showed that about 14 percent of Filipino girls become either pregnant with their first child or are already mothers between the ages of 15 and 19.
Who take care of the babies of these babies? The grandmothers, more often. My caddy in her late 40s, for instance, recently told me she was happy that I was playing again, as she needed more income to buy the infant-milk formula for the baby of her daughter who’s still in college. I’m sure this case isn’t an exceptional one.
It’s not a one-way street, though: Grandparenting is good for the grandparent. A study published in the Journal of the North American Menopause Society, found the highest cognitive scores among older women who spent one day weekly babysitting their grandchildren.
Providing at least some support in caring for grandchildren might lead to a longer life, according to a December 2016 study in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. Among more than 500 elderly European grandparents between the ages of 70 and 103, those who provided some occasional care for their grandchildren lived five years more than those didn’t.
That’s fantastic! But there’s a caveat. Some studies show that grandparenting could also be stressful, and seniors’ bones and lungs are obviously no longer appropriate for caring for an infant who constantly needs to be carried or even worse, running after a toddler around the house.
As one writer put it: “It seems as though there’s a Goldilocks principle to grandparenting: too little and you won’t get the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of being a grandparent; too much and you could be putting your health at risk.”
That means I shouldn’t be changing the stinking diaper.