Half term and an army of grandparents converge on London main line stations, various children in tow. It’s definitely museum time and no doubt the Science Museum and other child friendly attractions are heaving. Grandparents can find themselves in the frontline of child care duties at this time, and I’m guessing for the vast majority it’s an absolute delight – especially when they can deposit their charges with the parents at the end of the day!
Grandparents are often a great source of stories and have accumulated a lifetime’s experience they love to share. With stories of family and community life, they are often a store of wisdom that can offer great insight into personal behaviour and relationships. How things were like then can inform the present. Despite huge technological advances and the explosion of social media in the first two decades of this century, fundamental truths about the nature of human relationships, caring and looking out for each other don’t change.
Safeguarding, identifying and tackling abuse are not new and yet the church and others can sometimes be picked on for being ‘politically correct’ because of the strength of its current emphasis. This can mask truths long hidden or result in oft quoted childhood memory examples such as ‘a clip around the ear never did me any harm’. However it’s also arguably the case that even the proverbial clip around the ear may have been prompted by a parental desire to protect a child from more serious harm. These days it’s probably hard to react calmly and quietly when your 5 year old wanders into the road on their scooter without looking. The explanation may have to come later!
But crucially we also know that childhood was not necessarily a pleasant, care-free or enjoyable experience for all and older relatives may well have been the source of trauma and distress. So as ever its wise to avoid generalisations and use the principle of ‘respectful uncertainty’ to guide us. We can’t assume a universal degree of benevolence.
However capturing and making best use of the wisdom and experience of caring and concerned elders is something we might need to harness more as we aim to make our churches safer spaces. They may have much to offer.