updated 22 Jun 2012, 07:31
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Wed, Jun 20, 2012
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Left holding the baby

Sherry* was only five when her parents divorced nine years ago.

"She was dumped on my mother, Jenny*, right after dad passed away," recalls Sue*, Sherry's aunt.

Sue's brother had bailed on his daughter and Jenny, aged 69 at that time, was forced to single-handedly raise her granddaughter.

"I was working in Bangkok then and only returned to Penang when Sherry was 10.

"In a way, my niece helped mum recover from the loss of dad - they had been married for 40 years. So while mum had an extra burden, she also had a companion and someone to focus on and care for," she says.

"Mum used to drive Sherry to school and take care of all her educational needs, plus tuition classes and medical care. Fortunately, as a former nurse, the responsibility came naturally to her."

Sherry was, and still is, very attached to Jenny, but can be quite a handful, adds Sue, who was "summoned" home four years ago as her mother found it increasingly difficult to cope with a wilful teenager who has a mind of her own.

"Mum was tired and constantly complaining about how parents should be responsible if they want to have kids."

Asked about the challenges of raising a grandchild, Jenny says: "It was a challenge right from when she was a toddler until today, as she is navigating through her teenage years."

She can no longer help Sherry with her school work. But there's another worry: "I don't approve of stubbornness, irresponsibility and laziness. I fear she may turn out to be more like her parents," Jenny says matter-of-factly.

But this strong, vivacious lady is glad that her granddaughter is interested in nursing.

"Also, she is such good company and takes care of me. She helps around the house too. I was confined to a wheelchair recently after a nasty fall and she gave me my bath every day," she adds, beaming.

Jenny firmly believes that "grandparents make better parents" because they have experience. "They raised their children so it's not new to them." That said, children these days are so different from in the past.

"Times have changed and it's difficult to cope with the new wave of grandchildren who are technologicallysavvy, have their own minds and are more inclined to retaliate than obey," she says, pointing out that parents today have spared the rod and spoiled the child.

Sherry says she feels "very close" to grandma but is sometimes overwhelmed by her strict, no-nonsense approach.

"I must always be on my toes with her. But she gives me what I want and has taken me travelling to various places like Bali, Hong Kong, Nepal, Laos and Vietnam because she won't ever leave me with a babysitter."

Like Sherry, Joel's parents couldn't care for him and left the job to their elders.

May Low* is angry that her grandmother, who is well into her 80s and wheelchair-bound, has been caring for her cousin's seven-year old son since he was born.

"My aunt, who is 68 this year, is sharing the burden. My cousin took off with a married man after her divorce and just left Joel* behind. We don't know where her ex-husband is and my cousin, who works in a bar, only comes back occasionally.

"She promises to visit and take her son out but usually doesn't show up and he is left heartbroken waiting at home," says Low, a 34-year-old pet groomer.

While she is upset that her grandmother and aunt are left holding the baby, they do not seem to mind, she admits.

"My grandmother used to work in the launderette before her hip gave way. My aunt holds two jobs, as a clinic assistant and washerwoman, so that she can provide for Joel. They love him dearly and are understandably very protective of him."

The other relatives do what they can to help but everyone has his own family to look after.

Low shrugs when asked who would care for Joel if anything were to happen to his two elderly carers. "My heart really goes out to him, but I pity my grandmother and aunt, who had to clean up the mess my cousin left behind."

* Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.

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