At her age, the question that Vijayalakshmi Menon is asked frequently is why she doesn't live with her daughter whose house is just 10 km away from her own in Bengaluru.
The 59-year-old mother of two daughters, Vijayalakshmi, is part of a seemingly increasing number of grandparents in the country, who love their grandchildren but are reluctant to act as full-time child care providers.
While Vijayalakshmi is a home-maker, her husband of thirty-five years is a retired defence personnel who is mostly travelling.Her older daughter Divya, a research engineer by profession, gave up her job after she had her son three years ago.
"Considering I mostly live by myself, and the fact that Divya and I stay in the same city, people often ask me why I don't live with her and help her raise my grandson," Vijayalakshmi says.
Born and brought up in Kerala in a "proper orthodox family", Vijayalakshmi is the only daughter of her parents. However, soon after her marriage, she realised what a "nightmare" running a family could be.
A teacher by profession then, she left her job after she and her husband had children. Every few years, she moved to whichever destination her husband's transfers took them.
"Neither my parents nor my in-laws were there to help us bring up our children. With every transfer, we had to start from scratch in the new place. With just one earning member in the family, we ensured our daughters got quality education and now it is time for them to run their own lives," Vijayalakshmi says.
Relatives and acquaintances often bombard her with unwanted advice. "They tell me, if I stayed with her and looked after her child, she could go back to work instead of 'wasting' her education and they can even have better savings," Vijayalakshmi says.
Children, she feels, need to understand that even though parents have looked after them for most of their lives, they too need their own space after a certain age and forcing or imposing decisions on them can do no one any good.
Divya Menon's son following his grandfather
But the decision to stay at home was solely Divya's.
"Grandparents," Divya says "are meant to enjoy watching their children sail through life's journey with all its beauty, hardships, success and failures. They should not be taken for granted as the in-house nannies for our children."
In many families, it is assumed that grandparents are obliged to look after grandchildren, and especially so if they are retired.With the concept of hiring babysitters in the presence of parents alien to some, many senior citizens raise their grandchildren in their silver years just out of obligation.
While some see this as an essential support system, the question of leaving children in secure hands drives couples to depend on their parents.
βIn the first year after the baby was born, my mother stayed with me, while my father would keep travelling back and forth. After the first year, they chose to stay with me only for few months a year. I detested it, I felt like it was their responsibility too. But later I realised that though my parents are retired, they do have a life back in their native place,β says Sangeetha M, a media professional working in Chennai.
Manju Khadse from Delhi says, "We will be available to our children and grandchildren 24x7 if and when they need us, but not always.β
The 52-year-old interior designer is also mother to two daughters and a grandmother to a nine-month old.
"I want to give my grandchildren quality time and not quantity time," she says.
Having lost her mother, when she was around 13 years old, Khadse did not have much of a support system when she grew up or when she had to bring up her two daughters. She feels children learn best from their parents.
Besides, she says, they are getting older and it is physically not possible for them to bring up our kids at this age. "We also have our own interest and hobbies for which we need time and space," she adds.
Vijayalakshmi echoes the same thought. "Our doors are always open for them," she says adding that "but they need to stand up on their own feet."
According to her, every situation is unique and cannot be generalised. "I have seen many of my friends sell their property and move in with their children to a new place after their retirement. After a few years, they crave going back to where they came from.Some could also have genuine problems, like mental, physical or financial issues, and parents offer to help them out during such desperate situations. I'd help my children too if ever we were to face something similar."
Technology too has made it easier to keep in touch with people today. "You know if they sneezed one day and had fever the next. There's no need to stay with them physically all the time," she goes on to add.
Many of the parents in the younger generation want to manage their own responsibilities as well. Sudarshana Ashish from Bengaluru is one such mother. Her grandmother did not help her mother in raising her children, and her mother too wants Sudarshana to bring up her kids the way she wants them to.
"I don't take any help from my mother. I always request my parents not to do any baby-related work like washing and bathing, as it is my duty to do that. I only ask them to play and enjoy with their grandchild," she says.
On a regular day, Vijayalakshmi starts her day with doing the various household chores following which she often goes to the temple. A no-nap-in-the-afternoon type, she loves reading and discovers new and interesting things on Google everyday. Her evenings are spent on walks- she likes to keep active- and at night she spends time on Skype with her husband and younger daughter. And like on several other days, tonight, her daughter and grandson will be visiting her.
The distance has altered nothing between them, and she stresses that the bond between her and her grandson is only getting stronger by the day.