Vicky Kuyt-Cassar -The proud Maltese nanna grandparenting in Holland
It’s time to focus on Malta’s grandparents – the women and men who very often play an integral role in the care of thousands of Maltese children. Their work does not feature anywhere, yet the impact they left on us, and now on our children as grandparents, cannot be measured.
Local research on grandparents and their contribution to our society is highly lacking – so we’ve met with Maltese and Gozitan ‘nanniet’ for an intimate look into their lifestyle and how they spend time with their grandkids. Check out our series to meet these amazing nannas and nannus.
The proud Maltese nanna grandparenting in Holland
Vicky Kuyt-Cassar is a talented Maltese stylist, hair salon owner and mum of two living and working in The Hague, the Netherlands. She is also a grandma to one year old Luke, and helps care for him on her days off. Vicky shares with us what it’s like being a Maltese grandparent abroad, the cultural differences when it comes to caring for grandchildren and what she loves best about being promoted to grandma.
Can you tell us a little about yourself? Who are you and what was your day like before becoming a grandparent, compared to now?
My name is Vicky and I’m from Malta but live in the Netherlands. I have been living here with my family for the last 22 years. My daughter Saskia, who’s now 24, was born in Malta and we moved to The Hague when she was two to be closer to my Dutch husband’s family. Her sister, Jessica, who is now 21, was born here.
When we were still living in Malta my mum helped me a lot, especially as I was also working at the time. Once we moved here, I had help from my mother in law. I opened my salon in The Hague ten years ago, and I love that I get to live my dream and be a mum – and now also a grandma.
Life changed once my grandson was born – it’s much more beautiful now with him in it!
How is caring for a grandchild different from raising your own children?
Very! First off, caring for a grandchild is not a 24/7 job as it is with your own kids. Luke is with me two days a week, but once my daughter and son in law arrive home from work, he’s all theirs!
I think there’s a lot of self-doubt while raising your own kids, too. Am I being a good mum? Are they doing well at school? How can I help them do better? The situation is even harder as you have to keep up with work and the house while raising kids. My husband was always and still is hands-on with the kids and at home, but still many things fall on the mum. It’s a huge responsibility and I never took it lightly. Now with my grandson I’m much more relaxed. I know we did a good job with our kids, and can now enjoy our time with our grandchild without that added stress.
How do you usually spend your time with your grandchild?
There’s a children’s farm close by and we love visiting. He helps feed the lambs and loves petting the other animals. We also go to parks nearby and swings. There are always other kids his age there. His favourite pastime is following his own shadow and seeing where it went. There’s also a kids’ area at the library – he’s still young but he enjoys our time there.
Most Dutch cycle everywhere, but I’m too scared to do that with him on the bike. Maybe I would have done that if I were younger! We either walk, with him in his pushchair or bolderkar (wagon), or take the bus.
When it rains (which is very often), we stay home. Then we watch and sing nursery rhymes and, since I’m not too fond of toys, we play with tupperware lids and bowls. We use them as musical instruments (with a lot of banging) and he loves to see them roll away and then catch them. I can’t wait until he’s a bit older and we can start baking together. For now we prepare fresh smoothies and shakes and he loves them all. Of course, he’s now at that stage where he grabs and pulls everything, so I had to move some things around the house.
Where do you get inspiration for fun things to do with your grandchild?
I come up with things on the spot. We just get out of the house and do something fun. If the weather is nice, we take his bolderkar and go to the beach. Sometimes we take the bus just to sightsee – he loves pointing at cars and people and observing our surroundings. He’s always happy when we do something new, and it’s exciting for me too.
On being a Maltese grandparent abroad… during a pandemic and beyond
Your grandson was born during the pandemic. What was that like? Were you able to meet him as soon as he was born?
My daughter was pregnant at the start of the pandemic. We were all scared, but I left it all in the hands of God. I think I was more scared on the day he was born though. My daughter and son in law were sending us updates on how it’s going but then four hours passed without hearing anything. So, my husband and I just sat on our sofa at home, not talking, almost trembling in fear. We thought something bad had happened. Finally we received a call saying our grandson was born. We were over the moon but couldn’t go see him at the hospital due to Covid-19 regulations.
Once they got settled at home, my daughter called me to go visit. We went there and I wasn’t sure whether I should hold him or not. I was scared because of Covid, but then my daughter told me not to worry and to hold him. Looking back, I cannot really explain that moment – so much joy!
You’ve been living in the Netherlands for many years now – do you see a difference between Maltese grandparents and Dutch? Are there any policies/initiatives in the Netherlands that support or acknowledge the work of grandparents?
Let’s just say it’s a culture shock – both for me and for the Dutch I talk to! When I tell clients at the salon that I help care for my grandson twice a week, they find it very very strange. Most Dutch grandparents do not take on this role. They see their grandkids, but rarely care for them for long hours while their kids are at work. Dutch parents are very independent and they’re supported through childcares and work benefits that makes this possible.
Malta is smaller, and extended families are much more involved in each other’s lives. Here, if you need help they will help and gladly, but you have to ask, it’s not something that will be offered. I care for my grandchild because I enjoy it and I love that I’m in his life in this way. His other grandma also helps out on some days.
As far as I know, there are no policies specifically targeted at grandparents and their role in caring for grandchildren – but I may be mistaken.
Closing thoughts on ‘grandparenting’
Do you have any tips or advice for other Maltese grandparents?
I guess my advice would be to never lose this element of our culture, that of caring for grandkids – or to take it for granted. Caring for my grandson is very rewarding, I see my own kids in him and he keeps me younger. I would also add not to push your own kids when it comes to caring for little ones – at the beginning my daughter was very hesitant to leave her son with me, but now she gives him over the second she walks in the door. Support your kids, but respect the boundaries they set.
What do you love best about being with your grandchild?
Definitely the happiness he brings. The way he smiles at me is everything, and he’s now starting to say ‘nanna’. In Dutch, grandma is oma, but to him I’ll always be nanna!