Aida Atan (in pink with scarf), became a grandmother at 48. She’s pictured with her grandson Mohammad Rayyan Sufiyan Sophia’an; daughter Nur Nadia Jafreeli, and son-in-law, Sophia’an Karang Ina.
Aida Atan was 48 when her grandchild, Mohammad Rayyan Sufiyan Sophia’an, was born. Now 50 and caring for him full-time, she says that strangers sometimes mistake her for his mother. When she corrects them, they sometimes exclaim disbelievingly, “Sure or not?”
Aida, who had left a stressful administrative job around the time Rayyan was born two years ago, was happy to be a grandmother and pass on parenting advice to her daughter.
“It had been a long time since our family had a baby in the house,” she says. Her daughter, Nur Nadia Jafreeli, is a 25-year-old administrator and her 20-year-old son is doing his national service.
In fact, Aida feels more like a parent than a grandparent. “It’s like I’m having another youngest child, another newborn.”
Going by demographic trends, grandparents who are no older than 55 look to be increasingly scarce. Women in Singapore are having children later and fewer people are getting married, which means grandparents are likely to be older and fewer.
The median age of Singapore citizens when they have their first child was 30.3 in 2014, up from 29.2 a decade earlier, according to a report released last year by the National Population and Talent Division. There is no data publicly available regarding the median or average age of having one’s first grandchild.
NOT READY TO BE A GRANDPARENT
But not all young grandparents welcome the new phase of life. L. Loh found it hard to accept becoming a grandmother at the age of 43. She asked her granddaughter to call her “auntie”, but the girl, now five, persisted in calling her “ah ma”.
Putting aside the joy of welcoming a new addition to the family, becoming a grandparent in your 40s and early 50s can be unsettling. There can be an uncomfortable period of self- scrutiny, with conflicting emotions.
Some, like L., a manager in the logistics industry, feel that being called “grandma” or “grandpa” makes them feel old.
Young grandparents may experience other kinds of conflicted feelings about arriving at a stage of life earlier than expected, says Theresa Bung, principal therapist at the non-profit Family Life Society. She specialises in counselling families and couples.
Some have to set aside projects or plans. Some may still be working and feel guilty about the limited time they can spend with their grandchildren, especially if they have their own children to care for. Some are unhappy that their unwed teenaged children become parents.
But those interviewed say there are more advantages than disadvantages to their early grandparenthood.
MORE ENERGY FOR GRANDKIDS
Grandparents Loh Lay San, and Tony Bin (far right), with their daughter Jessica Bin, son-in-law Jerwin Aligguy, and nine-month-old grandson, Jeremiah.
A constant refrain is that young grandparents have more energy to keep up with their grandchildren.
Housewife Loh Lay San (pictured above) was 52 when her grandson came along. Since her daughter Jessica’s four-month-long maternity leave ended, she has been taking care of Jeremiah, now nine months old, with the help of her maid.
Lay San, now 53, takes Jeremiah for walks in the morning in the grounds of her condominium, looking out for squirrels and snails. She often takes him swimming. At the end of the day, she sometimes goes for a pilates class or gym session on the elliptical machine.
CLOSER BOND BETWEEN GENERATIONS
Young grandparents also tend to have more in common with their adult offspring when it comes to child-rearing, which can lead to closer family ties.
Indeed, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, 54, who became a grandfather on New Year’s Eve 2015 when his daughter Natalie gave birth to her first child, had told The Straits Times: “I have always believed that it is good to start early. We are glad our daughter heeded our advice.”
Indeed, public servant Jessica Bin, 25, says the relative youthfulness of her mum, Lay San, and her dad, 57-year-old Tony Bin, means they share a similar parenting philosophy.
For instance, both sides agree on the importance of play and enjoying the outdoors for children, says Jessica husband, engineer Jerwin Aligguy, 27.
Her grandchild’s arrival sealed Lay San ‘s decision to sell off her business, an enrichment centre she co-owned, last year. “It was perfect timing, time not to be working that hard,” says Lay San, who had been mulling over other options such as pursuing a master’s degree in counselling, before she volunteered to take care of Jeremiah full-time.
As a working parent when her three children were growing up, she says she “wasn’t as hands-on” then as she is with her grandson now. And Jessica says her parents’ support has “made the transition to parenthood easier”.
GLAD FOR THE HELP
From leftt: Alvin Lin and 18-month-old Asher; Alvin’s wife Venessa Lim; and her parents Joanne Chua and Ferry Lim.
Balancing work and family life as a new mum was made easier for civil servant Venessa Lim, 29 (pictured above), because her mum, Joanne Chua, is a young grandmother. Joanne, founder and director of a jewellery shop, became a grandmother at 54 when her elder daughter Venessa’s son, Asher, was born.
Venessa says it helps that her mother, now 56, is still working as she is “able to better understand our challenges relating to work and having a toddler. It helped alleviate the stress of my going back to the workforce as a new mum”.
Having taken five months’ no-pay leave on top of four months’ maternity leave, Venessa did not have many days off when she returned to work. Like some other children who are in childcare, Asher, now 18 months old, is prone to falling ill and Grandma Joanne sometimes takes leave to care for him.
Family culture was a factor that influenced Venessa to have children earlier rather than later. Joanne, whose daughter calls her a “benchmark”, married at 26 like she did and both of them had children in their late 20s.
Venessa and her husband, regional sales manager Alvin Lin, 30, dated for nine years before getting married. The couple and their son live with her parents.
Her father, sales operations manager Ferry Lim, 60, says he encouraged her to have a child early so he could play with the child. “After being married for more than 30 years, my communication with my wife would also be broader with a grandchild,” he adds.
RESPECT THE PARENTS
Experts caution that young grandparents need to respect their adult children’s new role.
Shelen Ang, principal trainer at Focus on the Family Singapore, says: “Since it may not have seemed that long ago that their children were still under their care, young grandparents need to be mindful that they do not take over the role of their children as parents.
“Their children need to be given space to grow into their own style of parenting.”
A version of this article first appeared in The Straits Times.
(Photos: Demond Wee, Aziz Hussin/SPH)