The doting grandmother

by | January 4, 2011

This tireless grandmother knows no bounds and has incredible love for her 11 grandchildren. In spite of her many roles as grandmother, she continues to look forward to being a friend to her grandchildren.

BY: Eleanor Yap


Zaleha Bte Akbar Ali loves children. When she was born into a family of eight, she found herself playing the role of mother at a very early age – to her four siblings. It was something she loved. When she finally had children of her own – six of them – she enjoyed doing it all over again.

She played a big role in their lives both at home and at school, sitting on their school advisory committees to organise fundraising activities and help out in school events. And she still managed to find time to help in the financial management of her husband’s company. Today, her role has changed and she still is caring for children. She is a grandmother of 11 and finds time to drive them to school, be the ‘disciplinarian’ to ensure they do their homework, and looks after them should their parents be busy.

Agelessonline speaks to Zaleha Bte Akbar Ali, 62, who was one of the 2010 Active Agers Award winners:

I hear you have many roles as grandmother including driver, fashion coordinator, counsellor, teacher and more.

I try my very best to incalculate religious knowledge, basic ethics and manners in them. Not forgetting being an unbiased referee to their sibling rivalries.

So which of the many roles is your favourite and why?

The role I love the most is the part where I try my best to educate them with religious knowledge and understanding. Parents these days are living in very hectic lifestyles so they do not have the time to coach their children with religion. Being available, I decided to lighten their parents’ responsibility and teach my grandchildren what I have learned from my elders. Not only do I teach religious knowledge, but I also share with them moral stories of my childhood so that they can take those stories as a lesson in life to improve themselves.

How often do you spend with your grandchildren besides the once a week get-together with all of them? What do you do with them?

My elder son stays in the next block, hence it is more convenient for his children to come and visit me often especially after a long day at school and in search of a good and healthy meal. My other grandchildren will come and visit me once a week. However, it is not always the case. When they have time they will usually just drop by without any appointment.

We usually would just chit-chat about their schoolwork, problems they are encountering and watch movies together at my house. I also attempt to play their PSP games with them although I have no clue how to play, but they will gladly teach me. If I fail to understand how to play the game, they will tease me throughout the day. I enjoy them teasing me because it makes me feel that I am their friend and not only just another boring old grandmother. Sometimes when I am having backaches, they would help to massage me.

What are some challenges that you have as a grandmother and the solutions?

1) Well, one of the challenges I face is that my youngest daughter is about four years apart from my eldest grandson. So there might be some jealousy and envy between them. But as time has passed, and they have grown up to be a more matured and understanding people, their relationship has been relatively good in comparison to their childhood days. The easiest solution for such a problem is to be fair and unbiased, and find an amicable way to solve the jealousy.

2) Different grandchild has his or her own way of doing things and different tastebuds. For example, one of them likes to eat only bread, while another like to eats rice with eggs only. It’s a very unbalanced diet, thus I have to try to create a menu where everyone would like to eat the food. Not forgetting that the food needs to be healthy and have a wide variety of nutrients. This is challenging at times because ideas can run out easily, but I never fail to accomplish their needs by trying to be creative and innovative with what I can cook.

3) Another challenge I face is the lack of knowledge in comparison to theirs. What I mean is that sometimes the questions they ask are beyond my knowledge especially when it comes to talking about science. I am not good in science. Thus in order for me to answer them without them looking down on me, I try to ask my daughters for help.

4) Sometimes, grandchildren can cause friction between my children and myself. They would tell unwanted stories such as rumours they heard from somewhere or rumours they create onto their parents. As a result of this, it causes conflict between my son/daughter and me. My duty then is to investigate the root of the problem and explain to my children the issue. I can understand that they can get upset after hearing from their children because probably they were tired from work and their children are showing tantrums, making them even more frustrated.

There are often issues between the grandmother and the daughter-
in-law. Has this been an issue in your own family and how do you settle disputes? 

Well I have two daughters-in-law. Each of them have their own thinking and way of life. They themselves are mothers, thus having their own way of nurturing their kids. Of course, there have been issues, but like all issues we have to be open-minded and try to accept the better option. Neither they nor I can be the authoritarian. Sometimes we just have to adopt a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ attitude.

How do you deal 
with disciplining the grandchild or do you leave this up to his or her parents?

When the kids are in their home, it’s the duty of their parents to ensure that they are well-behaved. But once they are in my house, they have to follow several rules that I have set such as cleaning their own mess especially after eating and washing their plates. From young, I have always taught them to be respectful to elders and never talk back. Thus, when I get upset with them for not doing what they are told, I will scold them.

However, if ever they were caught talking back at me when they are given a punishment, I would go in a ‘cold war’ with them in that I won’t talk to them for days until they apologise. However, in such cases, they would realise their mistake and make amends quickly and then we would all forget the unpleasant issue.

How do you balance your own time and being a grandmother? What do you do on your own time/free time?

Being a housewife, I have a lot of time to do my daily chores, and my hobbies. There is never a dull moment. In fact everyday seems to pass by so fast. I am a full-time grandma, mother and wife, who is there 24 hours for my family. In between my daily routines I take time-off to do my gardening, go marketing, watch some nice Hindi movies, go shopping and visit my elders.

Do you share any history with your grandchildren? Can you share an instance?

Well, I love to share about our ancestors’ history, both from my husband’s and my side of the family. In these stories, there are parts filled with pain, humility, sacrifice, love and much more. For example, how my father worked so hard to provide us food on the table while my mother was sick and was always in the hospital. It was really hard for my family back in the olden days when I had to also be a mother for my other siblings. By telling these stories, I want the younger generation to remember who they are, where they came from and how life was like during the olden days. Life was really tough then, not like now where everything is computerised and electronic. I even tell them about some paranormal and ghostly adventures I experienced during my early childhood staying in the kampongs and even bedtime stories my mum and grandma told me.

Any advice in communicating with your grandchildren as well as your own children?

My advice is to keep things simple and open. I am always ready to hear what both my kids and their own kids have to say. During family meals, all would be present and everyone has a right to speak openly. But of course, the younger kids have to be tactful when speaking out. But in the end, I think this creates a better bond with the second and third generations.

I understand you are working on a project to put together a book of your mother and mother-in-law’s and your own special recipes. Can you share more details and how you plan on passing this down from generation to generation? 

My side of the family is more expert in Malay cooking, while my husband’s family is more expert in cooking Indian dishes. The goal is write the recipes into a cookbook, and update all the authentic recipes that I have learned and pass it down to the new generations that have yet to come. I do not have the intention of publishing the book merely for profit, but I want to publish it so that people can try out my recipes and cook for their own families. I do not mind uploading these recipes online for people to learn for free. I also am hoping to provide those people who are interested with my recipes a demonstration. I believe that I cannot be selfish with my knowledge because the knowledge I have does not belong solely to me. Rather, it belongs to everyone else. Thus by sharing my knowledge and expertise, it would make me a better person. 

Recalling during my youth days, I realised that my grandmother and great grandmother have only taught me about 20 percent of their recipes. So, I do not want my children to only remember a small percentage of my recipes. I want to organise as much as I can, digitise them, catalogue them and keep them for my kids. So when they have their own recipes, they can add on to my list and pass them on to the next and next generation after.

As a grandmother, what are five lessons you have learned that you would like to share with other grandmothers/grandmothers-to-be?

• Always be there for your grandkids.
• Love them equally, and share the happiness with them.
• Do not take sides and be biased.
• Never ever forget their birthdays.
• Try to get in touch with the world and impress them with the knowledge you have. That way you show them that you will not stop learning no matter how old you are.

Do you remember your own grandparents and how they were to you and your siblings?

Well, in the olden days, people get married at a very young age. My grandma married at 13 and my mum married at 16. I have aunties who are the same age as me because my grandma gave birth about the same time as my mum. I remember that my grandpa, grandma and not forgetting my great-grandma took care of me. The lifestyle back then was so different and laid back. We used to climb coconut trees to get the coconut, etc. Every night, they would share stories with us and put us to sleep. They really took good care of us and even spoilt us with goodies.

Any regrets as a grandmother?

Nope, I don’t think I will ever have regrets being a grandma. It’s an honour to be called a grandma and I am proud to be one. I am very blessed to have 11 grandchildren. 

What are your hopes for your grandchildren?

I wish them all the very best in their future. I really want them to remember my husband and I, and always persevere in life. I want them to lead a life of no regrets and achieve all they can for this world and the next. Not forgetting, to pass down their experiences and knowledge to the next generation.

If you could say something to each of your grandchildren, what would it be?

1 ) Shaik Ahmed – He is matured for his age and he acts like an adult. Please take notice of your personal grooming.
2 ) Nafeesah – Start doing regular exercise and take care of your health.
3 ) Syafiqah – Beauty with brains, so try to study more.
4 ) Hamzah – Don’t be afraid to open up.
5 ) Akashya – Don’t be so choosy with your food and learn to read more and not play computer games.
6 ) Umar – Open up and make more friends. Try to do more reading and less playing.
7 ) Amar – Appreciate the value of money and hard work. Do not show tantrums unnecessarily. 
8 ) Aisha – Talk less and learn to listen more.
9 ) Shayrah – Speak more and always remember your roots.
10 ) Haaziq – Don’t act like a superhero, safety first, my boy.
11 ) Sarah – Be a girl, and don’t act like a tomboy.

How would you describe yourself as a grandmother?

I believe that I have done my level best as being a grandma. I have been called an iron lady numerous times due my heart being ice cold … well only during times when I need to be strict for the better. But aside from that I am easily affected whenever my kids or grandkids have problems. I always pray the best for them. But overall, I think I am well-rounded grandma. Most importantly, I am their friend. Getting them to treat you as a friend is the hardest part because only when you are their friend can they trust you with their secrets and feelings. 

Can you share a heartfelt moment with one of your grandchildren that you will not likely forget?

Negative moment – it was probably when my son had a divorce and his ex-wife took away my ninth granddaughter from the house. She walked out of the house with my granddaughter without saying anything. But time heals all wounds and I have seen my granddaughter a few times whenever my son was able to persuade his ex-wife to bring home my grandkid. It has been four years now, so I do hope that my granddaughter remembers us and knows that we love her.

Positive moment – When all my family is able to come down and have a meal together, especially during Hari Raya, has always been my fondest memories. That’s when all the grandkids sit around and catch up with each other. Not forgetting, we try to celebrate birthdays as a family by going out for dinner or having a BBQ in a chalet. But most importantly, we celebrate events and functions as a family.

Anything to add?

To be a mother is great but to be a grandma is the greatest. It’s like reaping what you sowed. Time flies so fast that now my children are fathers and mothers respectively. I used to be stricter during the olden days but now I have mellowed because my responsibility as a mother is done when they got married. They are still my children but they are also a parent to their own children. When they need my help and expertise in handling their kids, I would advise and counsel them. The bond we share is strong as my grandchildren know that if their parents are away or busy, they can always come to me.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *