I'm the Grandmother, Not the Babysitter!

We all want to help out with the kids, but no one wants to be taken for granted.

By Barbara Graham

When my son was a baby and my parents came to visit, I never dreamed of asking them to babysit while my son's father and I headed to the nearest spa for a few days of R & R. Au contraire, I cooked elaborate meals, took care of the kid, and generally did everything possible to make sure the grandparents enjoyed their stay. Anyhow, even if I secretly longed for a break, my folks were the admire-the-cherub-from-a-distance type and never showed the least bit of interest in being hands-on.

Fast forward to the present. Sometimes it seems as though my son and his wife view my every visit as an open invitation for them to take a hike (literally and metaphorically) and leave me — and my husband, when he's along — with the two little ones. I ask you: Where are the elaborate meals? The jumping through hoops? What happened to the old honor-the-grandparents-and-make-them-happy approach?

I'm sort of kidding — but not entirely.

Now, don't get me wrong. I adore my grandchildren. I yearn to spend quality time with them. I despair that I live thousands of miles away and see them only a few times a year. I voluntarily sign on to take care of the girls for days at a time. I'm thrilled that my son and daughter-in-law trust me enough with the kids to fly the coop.

So, what do I have to kvetch about? My situation is pretty terrific, all things considered. And yet ... there are times when I feel, if not exactly taken advantange of, then taken for granted. Not unappreciated, just slightly underappreciated. Like a powerless servant — minus the paycheck.

I seem to have plenty of company.

"No question, our kids expect much more from us that we ever did from our own parents," says Florence Falk, a New York City psychotherapist and the grandmother of a 4-year-old girl. "Our grown children also seem to have a much greater sense of entitlement than we had." Falk thinks this is because our relationships with them tend to be far more casual and open than they were with our parents. That's the good news.

"But such a high level of expectation can put a real strain on grandparents," she adds. "In my case, I have to remind myself 20 times a day that I'm the grandmother, not the babysitter. My goal is to help out as much as I possibly can, stopping short of the point where I start feeling resentful, completely drained, or out of touch with my own needs. There's a fine line," she says, "and it takes constant vigilance not to cross it."

I couldn't agree more. There are times when I've crossed that line, times when I've agreed to a bit more childcare than I really had the energy for — and paid the price. When this happens, I can't blame my son and daughter-in-law. The pressure to say yes to their requests doesn't come from them, it comes from me, from my love for them and for my granddaughters. And from the lingering sense of guilt that seems to be part of my wiring.

Note to self: Remember, it's okay to say no!

Saying no becomes even more important when the grandparent actually is the babysitter, a phenomenon that seems to be on the rise. Janet Bodle, a semi-retired family physician in the San Francisco area loves caring for her two grandchildren, ages 4 and 6, two days a week while their parents, both teachers, are at school.

"Clear communication," Bodle says, "is the key to making the arrangement work, especially since we're all so busy." To make sure everyone is on the same page, she puts the schedule in writing and e-mails it to her son and daughter-in-law. And, she says, "They're free to ask me to pitch in at other times, and I'm free to say no." Still, Bodle likes to say yes as often as she can, adding that spending time with the kids before they get completely swept up in their own lives is her top priority.

Which brings me back to Point A: I adore my grandchildren. I love my son and his wife. I know that being a parent today is in many ways more complicated than ever before, and I want to be there for them — and for myself. It's just that sometimes, when I start to feel like a servant and I'm so tired my vision blurs, I get a tad cranky. At those moments, a few extra words of grateful acknowledgment from my beloveds couldn't hurt.

My friend Mary told me a story the other day that says it all. Mary just spent a month — voluntarily, joyfully — helping her daughter after the birth of her baby, Mary's first grandchild. One day, after Mary had spent the previous nine hours washing dishes, folding laundry, helping with the baby, and shopping for and preparing two meals, she turned to her daughter and said, "I'm exhausted!"

To which the new mother replied, "Why are you so tired?"


I am also a mother of young kids and my mother refuses to babysit for us. I am literally, a stay at home mom 24/7 without any help from anyone. It is embarrassing and back-breaking. She had help with each and everyone of her four illegitimate children. The paternal grandparents and/or fathers raised them for years because she had nothing in life. She had one child and someone raised that child and then the next year she would have another one and someone raised that one too, etc. I just found out who my real father was in my twenties, he died a few years later. Fast forward to her seventies and she does not want to babysit. She is willing to see the kids if we visit or give her a ride to the house. But if we ask her to watch the kids while we take a two hour break, her answer is no because she wants us to take her out for entertainment. She sees us as a date or social hour or something. She will remember birthdays and give money but will NEVER offer to babysit. She says that she became retired to enjoy her life, not watch kids. I have zero help, it;s almost like my children have no grandparents. I am a Christian but struggle with resentment over this issue. I got married and waited to have children and did things the right way. Yet, I see so many women who mess up in life and get so much help. She wonders why her children don't honor her and expects money from us.

vanity75@gmail.com on 2014-07-23 00:30:59

I am sure I will be attacked, but I have to speak for parents whose parents and in-laws do not help much, and one who actually said that moms do not need more than a few minutes every day away from her children. I am a married mom of three who has a husband who works all the time, and in the opposite direction of where we are daily. I changed careers so I could teach at my kids' school. I am the one who takes care of it all. When I say I never get a break, I mean it literally. We cannot afford sitters. I took a pay cut so that I could be there for practices, games -- everything. And it was worth it. But if I had had any idea I was going to go at it completely alone, I honestly do not know what I would have done. My kids are amazing and really do give my life meaning. And the truth is, we NEED my husband to work bc he is the breadwinner. We do not live in the lap of luxury -- far from it. We live within our means. But I am crapping out. My mother made it clear when I got pregnant that she had "served her time." My dad still works. MIL lives far away and has other things to worry about -- legitimately -- and FIL has seen his youngest grandson once. I know that grandparents need their own lives, and I understand that kids are a handful. But I am depressed and anxious and resentful most of the time. I really try not to be; I take medication and see a counselor every so often. But it truly amazes me how quickly grandparents forget 1) what it was like to be spent every minute of every day, and 2) how much help they actually got that they have completely dismissed. I honestly feel like the only way I will get help is if I go off the deep end. It feels like they do not care. I have reached out before, but I get guilt trips or I get a bit of help, and then I get put on the backburner very quickly again. I cannot be the mother I know I can be bc I am exhausted all of the time. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with a very bad case of monk. The doc said I had likely had it for years. Did anyone help then? Nope. Yes, I know that I chose to have kids. And yes, I want to be there for them as much as I can. For the most part, I am happy about the choices we have made. I just feel like I would be much more effective -- in every avenue of my life -- if I had someone say, "Hey, you need a break. Let me take the kids for a night (or two nights), and you go do something fun. Or sleep." But it never happens. Might I add that even if I could afford regular sitters, I am not super comfortable leaving my kids with people I do not know very well. I realize I sound like I am whining. Maybe I am. But I am just pissed and hurt. So, for you g-parents who do it all, I really feel for you. But for those who do not, well, maybe this will make you see things in a different light.

Cindernar@yahoo.com on 2014-07-15 22:26:25

I've helped my stepson so many times it's not funny. The thousands spent, the sacrifices, taking on a larger place so that him and his wife could have a roof over their head, a place I'm now stuck with because aswell as everything else they chose to impose on us and bring into our home without so much as a by your leave, they now have a baby. There's an old saying, children shouldn't have children and it has never been more true. So now that they've got the flash cars they wanted but can't afford without help from others, and they have their income to spend on lavish toys, my wife is largely stuck babysitting. This has been imposed as a duty and ensured with guilt and manipulation. I personally went through hell questioning myself and wondering if I was just a selfish, greedy old man. When they first moved in neither had work, but they had enough money to buy a large screen TV, a gaming unit and pets. I didn't take anything for rent for months. Then one of them got work and I asked for $150/month. Oh you should have heard the crying. Then his wife got work and I asked for a little more. Again with the crying and how I was bilking him. Then, after numerous complaints I decided to move to a larger place, with a larger rent. After many months I asked for more rent. Oh holy hell what an evil man I am. Fast forward, my wife cannot work, she receives no benefits, they're half our age and they have a child. I'm up to the eyeballs in debt struggling to keep my home and keep my daily driver and my backup vehicle on the road, both old used vehicles, while he has his TWO almost brand new top end sports cars and they EXPECT my wife to baby sit daily and drive his wife to and from work because she refuses to get a driving licence to drive the car he supposedly bought for her. We've had him in our faces about how his mother is lazy and her activities are pointless and she should work to pay rent and he has RIGHTS because he pays rent and my wife should be quiet and we should do things out of the home. I basically live in the garage for peace, my wife has recently begun to join me. Why should they have to pay SO much?! It's SO hard for them. My question? Why so much negativity and selfishness? Why is it always a question about how life is so hard for them and we're so bad to them? Why is it never ever appreciation, gratitude, respect, decency, helpfulness, compassion? These days the younger generation expect to be given everything. There is no acknowledgment that the have to work and save and build like the rest of us, they are entitled to it NOW! We, as grandparents OWE them NOTHING. We've already done our giving, we've already sacrificed, it's their turn. Anyone who says "Awe well it's hard for them and it's our duty as grandparents/parents to be kind and compassionate and be there for them and suffer and pay" is completely and absolutely messed up in the head. This namby pamby cossetting and excuse making is ridiculous and is not doing the 'young parents' any favors. They need to learn the hard way, as we did, they need to get out on their own and stand up on their own two feet. We didn't make the child, they did. It's THEIR responsibility not mine so WHY are we doing the caring, paying medical bills that aren't repaid and subsidizing by paying the lions share of the rent and all the bills, including the hiked electric, gas and water bills due to them having a baby. This is a mess that no one should suffer/tolerate. To anyone out there feeling guilty because they're starting to realize they're being taken for granted, DON'T!!

Bulldog_Winston on 2014-06-23 23:43:22

I grew up without grandparents, so I never knew what the true job description of a grandparent was. All I knew was that when my daughter had 2 sons (a year apart) out of wedlock, I helped out as much as possible. She was not financially able to do very much since the fathers were bums. I bought baby cribs, clothes, diapers and food. I babysat on the weekends and even over the summers. I took the kids to the movies, we went on trips to the museums and sometimes out-of-town. I have spent a lot of money.

My daughter became pregnant again and got married to a man who was both physically and mentally abusive to her and my grandsons. Because of his abusive behavior, I frequently took the boys to my house to shelter them from this horrible existence. My daughter eventually divorced the abuser and life for my grandkids became pleasant.

Fast forward 7 years and my daughter met, and married a very nice man. She had another kid, this time... a daughter. Money was never an issue with this marriage, however her new husband seemed to think I was obligated to babysit with this new kid. I remember him plunking his 15 pound baby in my lap while saying, "Here Grammie, take your new grandbaby". This was all fine and good, however every time I visited, he did the same thing or something similar. It was almost as if he was shoving this kid down my throat.

I was also asked to babysit after they discovered I had plans to retire. I gracefully declined the offer. Six years later, along comes yet another baby girl. The boys are now pretty much in the teen years and don't require babysitting; however the new baby girl is now the "princess" of the family, is spoiled rotten and my son-in-law has taken to "just dropping by" my apartment with both girls in tow. He even taught the new kid how to dial my phone number and I was "forced" to try to communicate and listen to gibberish until he finally came to get her off the phone. This placing of an adult-dialed phone number, eventually led to the girls calling me to ask, "Grammie, can I come over?. The call was usually place on a Friday evening.

I'm having these "I-don't-feel-like-being-bothered" thoughts and am having mixed feelings of guilt and sometimes anger. I say anger because I have a life and believe that I deserve to spend the remainder of it doing things that I "put-off" because I was spending my earlier years babysitting. I've tried to explain this to my daughter, but I don't think she gets it. I've been accused of not being "family-oriented".

grammiepart2 on 2014-06-05 06:21:30

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