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?"

Comments

Also, I must add: the entire 'too old' excuse is such rubbish, too. When I was a child, my great grandmother cared for my siblings and I while my mother and grandmother worked in the factory. She was in her eighties when she stopped. Until that point, she watched us, ran a household, and cooked three meals a day.

You have as much energy as you allow yourself. If you can't keep up with your grandkids, that's only proof that you need the exercise more than ever.

mccrotchity@gmail.com on 2014-08-16 15:15:23

I'm so troubled by this article. The whole "I did my time" mindset is absolute rubbish to me. When I became a mother, it wasn't for 18 years. It was for a lifetime. It is my duty to guide, cherish, and assist my children as long as I am alive. Is it difficult at times? Certainly. All relatioships are. However, all relationships are. If I am eighty and my fifty year old kids need my assistance I will not hesitate to offer it. That's what families do for each other. If I didn't want that relationship, I would have not had children.

Furthermore, the poster whose petulant mother said "no one asked me if I wanted grandkids", I feel sorry for. It's life's natural progression to marry and procreate. If you don't want the responsibility of grandchildren, don't start the process by having kids. Just because you birth them doesn't mean you own them. I gave up my selfishness when I decided to get pregnant so long ago. I don't expect to be able to regain it simply because my children have reached some magical age at which they are supposed to to wise and all knowing.

In a day and age when some grandparents have to fight for the rights to their grandkids, those who have access to them should be thankful. It would be quite easy to see that the grandparent is self ansorbed and doesn't particularly need to have access to those precious little ones.

mccrotchity@gmail.com on 2014-08-16 14:55:55

I have 11 grandchildren. I love to share time with each one of them. But I have one that lives across country. Her father lives near me so her visits are usually weeks long. She stays with us during the week and her father stays some nights( Paying for all of the airplane tickets 3 round trip every time she comes out ( she is seven and needs to transfer ) he can't afford to miss much work. My husband and I have noticed that the longer our son is on his own the more a weekend father he is. And the weekends are even getting shorter. He seems to know everything LOL so taking to him is not easy. We love this little girl and don't want her to think we don't want her here but we are retired and what to spend more time with each other than watching grandkids. How to get my son and her mother to realize that they need to step up the parenting and take it upon themselves see the problem. We really don't want to do anything that would make our granddaughters life anymore stressful than it already is. But dang she is their daughter!!

brand4@ccgmail.net on 2014-07-28 00:29:05

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