Perhaps you are a grandparent. Or maybe an aunt or uncle. Maybe you are involved in care work for your grandchildren, nephews or nieces: emotional and ‘invisible’ work, which does not feature in gross domestic product statistics, but which is rich in social worth, trust and reciprocity.
The former deals with the care, support and being mindful about other people’s needs, anxieties and feelings and emotions. The latter deals with work such as cooking, cleaning, feeding and washing that is vital in everyday life.
Perhaps you are a grandparent who juggles family life with employment, or perhaps you experience loneliness in your everyday life. You may also be rich in social networks but have little access to your grandchildren despite your wish to be with them.
As a parent, sociologist and politician I recognise the immense contribution that grandparents give to their loved ones, and I feel more should be done to ensure the right to such access is enshrined in the policy process.
I believe that the European Union should dedicate a day to grandparents, just as it does to other groups in society. Such a feat can help in raising awareness about the rights, responsibilities, needs and aspirations of grandparents. For they may vary in age, employment or retirement status, health, income, gender, family situation and other factors.
In this regard I also believe that more social-scientific studies are required to analyse the everyday life situations of grandparents. Different types of studies and research methods can be carried out, from macro statistical measurements to micro-analysis of real-life situations.
Research questions could include: how many grandparents are there in Malta? What is their socio-economic and demographic background? How many persons have similar roles as that of grandparents? How many grandparents lack access to their grandchildren? What are the everyday lived experiences of grandparents? What are their aspirations, needs and challenges? How does grandparenting impact the family economy?
One area which deserves priority is the access of grandparents to their grandchildren and vice-versa
Such studies can provide evidence for inclusive policymaking.
One area which deserves priority is the access of grandparents to their grandchildren and vice-versa. Such persons may be separated geographically and may have to adapt to their distant love. They may also be geographically close but are experiencing family challenges and boundaries despite their wishes. Maybe they need skills in coping and resilience to face their everyday situations. Incidentally, last year the European Court of Justice declared that the notion of rights of access refers not only to the rights of access of parents to their child, but also to the rights of access of other persons with whom it is important for the child to maintain a personal relationship, among others, the child’s grandparents.
The court said that in order to avoid the adoption of conflicting measures by different courts, and in the best interests of the child, the same court – as a general rule, the court of the child’s habitual residence – should rule on rights of access.
There may also be persons who do not have grandchildren but would like to assist them – intergenerational community pro-jects may be beneficial in this regard. Local councils and voluntary organisations can be key social entrepreneurs for such purpose. Such practices can enhance inclusion, cohesion, safety and community bonds.
Malta is lucky to have its own ‘Grandparents Malta’ voluntary organisation, which is raising awareness on the rights and needs of this broad social group. This organisation also organises various social and educational events which also double-up in creating and bonding social networks of persons who share similar concerns.
Indeed, this is an area which is worthy of political consensus. Let us ensure that the rights, responsibilities, needs and aspirations of grandparents are recognised by society.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and European Parliament candidate for the Nationalist Party.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece