If children are a joy and a responsibility, grandchildren are a joy pure and simple – an irresponsible joy. Harassed parents look forward to being grandparents. Grandchildren visit, stay long enough to make you feel young again and then go home, their parents’ to worry and fret over.
What’s wrong with the above? Only one thing: it isn’t true. Probably it never was. Now less than ever, says Shukan Post (Nov 6).
Last month the magazine ran a story on “grandchildren fatigue.” It’s not the little ones themselves who are demanding, of course, but their parents on their children’s behalf. The report, Shukan Post says in its current issue, drew such a vast and eager response – “Me too!” “I feel the same way!” “So it’s not just me!” “If anything Post understates the case!” – that the editorial decision was made to explore the problem more deeply.
Cash cows – that’s what parents are to their grown children. Vultures – that’s what grown children are to their parents. At least that’s the impression you get reading the story. Probably it’s exaggerated. Let the reader judge how true it rings.
“My son and my daughter often come over with their families to visit,” says a 66-year-old retiree. “‘Come over to visit’ – how pleasant that sounds. In fact, it’s more like blackmail.”
The example he raises is comparatively trivial – the visitors won’t settle for home cooking; they’ve come specially; why not go out to a restaurant? No, not kaiten zushi, a real restaurant – meaning an expensive one. We’re not told how many grandchildren there are, only that the bill usually comes to tens of thousands of yen – no small sum for a pensioner, but if he demurs, perhaps they’ll stop coming? Perhaps he’ll lose all contact with the grandchildren? It’s not stated in so many words but one suspects hints to that effect may have been dropped.
A 70-year-old grandfather is always delighted to see his grandchildren, and the fact that his son’s family doesn’t stay with him and his wife but at a nearby onsen is not a bad arrangement either – except that the unspoken understanding is that grandpa and grandma cover the onsen hotel bill. Why? Well, just because. Call it custom. Again: to challenge it might mean the visits cease altogether.
It’s not only meals and accommodation. Having children entails, as everyone knows, all kinds of expenses – medical, educational, supplementary (piano lessons, large-screen TV, what have you) – and the assumption seems to have taken root, Shukan Post observes acidly, that kids ultimately are not their parents’ responsibility but their grandparents.’
“My four-year-old granddaughter developed sick-house syndrome,” says a 70-year-old retiree. “They had to move. But my son’s just 30 – it was impossible on his salary.” There went grandpa’s life savings – 20 million yen. He’d been planning on using part of that to make his own home barrier-free. Now he and his wife are looking for part-time jobs through a senior citizen placement center.
Why don’t more grandparents just say no? The fear of estranging their children and grandchildren has already been mentioned. A more sociological explanation is offered by marriage counselor Makiko Miyamoto. Young parents who grew up in a still-lingering economic depression know their own parents lived and worked through Japan’s bubble economy and think, sometimes rightly and sometimes not, that they’re loaded. The grandparents, meanwhile, know that the current economy is hard, and they know too what hard times are, having gone through the early postwar years when poverty was rampant. They want to spare their grandchildren anything like that.
In short – one generation is primed to give and the other is primed to receive. It sounds perfect, and would be, but for the festering underlying resentment.© Japan Today