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?"


It is a difficult place to be and I need to mention to someone that responded here regarding how selfish we grandparents are when it comes to watching our grandkids: "this generation of grandparents emerging who had countless free babysitting hours/days/weekends provided for them by their parents when they had children and are now too busy to help their children who are currently in need."

Not all grandparents had countless free babysitting provided for them; most of us did not and we did not have the attitude of entitlement when it came to our parents watching our kids. There is a difference in attitude. My mother watched my children maybe a few times (2x's) over a weekend so my husband and I could have some "alone time" for an extended amount of time. For going on dates, we always hired a babysitter and never thought of asking our parents to sit. For work? Well, we paid someone to watch the children during the day. I respected their space and lives and wanted to have my children view grandma as grandma. I understand that it is difficult these days for our children, and it is also difficult for us; many of us lost our homes, jobs, ageism etc...my daughter just asked me if I could watch her two children 11 months and 4 years with CP 5 days a week (for small pay...I am out of work) This is not the problem, I love them both and they are dear to me, however, I do get very tired after 9 hours a day, the child with CP takes twice the amount of energy, boy, with already a ton of energy...when I am done watching them, I run home and do not have the energy to do anything else. pooped, I am healthy, exercise, etc...anyone gets tired. And...there are not adults around, so it is kid day all day long day in and day out. I do not have a husband, and then no energy to go out? It is life balance, reality. tired. Then it comes to identity, how do I develop the rest of my life if I am too tired? I worked, yes, but did not get this tired. I know that grandparents are the best and safest ones to chose these days, full of love and wisdom (yes) so what to do? How do I develop another career, watching the kids is not going to last until I am 70!

srobens@gmail.com on 2017-01-11 20:06:18

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big.susan@yandex.com on 2016-08-19 06:51:05

I'm late to the game here. I discovered this site after searching on the issue of grandparents not being allowed to put their grandchildren in a car.

I am totally fine with my daughter-in-law's decision to not allow anyone else but herself and my son to drive the children (boys, aged 4 and 2). But I've also never been allowed to keep them overnight. Has anyone else experienced this?

I have two sons, and they both have two sons. My older grandsons (aged 8 and 7) spend the night at Grammie's all the time; have since they were less than a year old.

My younger son's boys, however, have never slept a single night at my house. Sometimes it hurts my feelings -- I think, "Wow, you trust me to care for them while you're out doing the things you need to do, and they can nap at my house -- but they're not allowed to sleep at my house."

It's not a huge deal -- I fully understand that it's the parents' call completely on what happens with their children. I appreciated my in-laws understanding that fact back in the 80s when my sons were small, and I owe it to my daughter-in-law (my son doesn't have a problem with it, but respects her wishes) to understand her issues.

Reading about how some grandparents on this forum have precious little time to spend with their grandchildren, I feel a bit silly complaining that I have to walk A and A to the park instead of drive them. Thanks to all who posted comments here for widening my perspective.

Jaxrabbit on 2016-08-08 12:06:50

I respectfully disagree mccrotchity that there is no such thing as too old; that when a grandparent does not have enough energy he/she just needs to exercise more! Well, when I look after my grandkids for up to 12 hours per day I am constantly exercising. This is not like my former job where I had regular lunch breaks and two 15 minute breaks. I am "on" all the time. Growing older, I do have less energy and less resistance to "bugs" that I catch from my grandkids. I have gotten more colds, bronchitis, flu (even with a flu shot) and even double pneumonia. More exercise would not have prevented that. I am happy to help out but physically I just can't keep on going for much longer with this schedule. I also want to fulfill my dreams of writing when I retire from babysitting. I am currently too exhausted to do that. Also, I rarely asked my mother-in-law to babysit. She would take my child when she wanted but I never asked her on a regular basis. I greatly appreciated her help when she gave it but I never presumed that she owed me free babysitting. I love my grandkids but I want to be a Nana, not a full time babysitter to them.

kathyfc on 2016-07-01 11:02:39

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