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November 13, 2018

When Rose Hoare became a mother, she did not expect to be overwhelmed with an even deeper love and appreciation for her own parents... 

When I was a child, I loved my parents very much. They were my whole world and the sound of their voices or even their footsteps around the house could bring me comfort. They were security and love, and the feeling of being known. 

Then I became a teenager, and I hated them. Hated the power they had over me. I hated their desperate curiosity about my world, which to me was far too exciting and exotic for their tiny minds to comprehend. But they still represented security and love. They used to leave money in the hallway so that when I went out, I would always be able to leave any situation I did not feel safe in. I could call a cab and come home. They told me over and over again that I could tell them anything and they would still love me no matter what. 

Then I became an adult and I loved them again, but I also kind of forgot about them as I made my way around the world, striving to build a career, a marriage, a home, a life of my own. In adulthood, we became friends.

Then, quite late in life, I became a mother and my relationship with my parents, which I’d thought was settled, unexpectedly changed again. I realised how much effort is involved, every minute of every day and night, to care for a baby. I realised the magnitude of the love they must have felt for me, and how exhausting I must have been. I realised what sacrifices they made, so that I could flourish. I experienced that crushing love you have for your child. I realised how permanent, relentless and weirdly fulfilling it is to worry about them. I finally started to appreciate how much my parents had done for me. 

This realisation hit at about the same time that my parents went into overdrive as grandparents – doing school drop-offs, babysitting, and providing a clean, warm, welcoming second home, where I see my son so happy and at ease. My gratitude doubled – I’m not just grateful for all that they did to raise me, I’m also grateful for (and kind of astonished by) their ongoing support.

Now, I have sympathy for anyone who, after devoting a couple of decades to raising their own children, feels like they would enjoy some freedom from snot, poo and slobber. Some grandparents are distant or disengaged, and I think that’s a legitimate choice. No one has a right to demand anything of grandparents. But doesn’t this make it all the more miraculous that so many volunteer so much?

Last year, about a quarter of New Zealand kids were cared for by their grandparents. But I think, as a society, we probably underplay their importance. Grandparents have a reputation for being well meaning but a bit out of touch, of spoiling grandkids, of not taking full responsibility the way parents do. We talk about grandparents like they’re pleasant, but not necessary.

It’s no exaggeration to say that my parents help keep me and my family afloat. The unpaid childcare they do allows me to work. Their emotional support and gentle chiding when I’m worrying allows for calm. Their company, especially through those first, incredibly isolating months when I wasn’t fit to be seen in public, has kept me sane.

So far, they have never said no when I’ve asked for their help. And I’ve asked so many times that I wince a little each time I call them, aware that they must have learned to expect that I’ll only be calling to ask for a certain favour.

Recently, I found myself at home alone caring for my baby whilst struggling with a tummy bug. I was at a particularly low ebb and felt an old, familiar feeling – of needing my mum or dad. I called, they came. And as they quietly carried my baby away, the sound of their footsteps brought me comfort. 

I felt like a child again, and kind of still do. Partly because of how much I rely on them – although I know that can’t last forever – but partly because there is that same big, huge love welling up again. In the face of parenthood and all of its responsibilities and moving parts, I sometimes feel small again, overwhelmed. To know I have that back-up, that same security and love, is a lovely echo of my childhood, which I didn’t expect to experience again. As unimaginable as it seems at the moment, someday I hope I’ll have the chance to pay it forward.

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