I suspected the issue of grandparents being held hostage by their children might be a little bit of a red flag, and for once I was right. We got seventeen responses to last week’s column by noon on the first day it was online, and as of this moment we have three weeks’ worth of letters on the subject.
We’ve received letters representing the whole spectrum ? from grandparents who believe they should have their freedom to do whatever they want, all the way from grandparents who wonder why any grandparent could find anything more important to do provide a home for their adult children or babysit the grandkids.
One concept that came out in several of the letters I read was that of entitlement. Let’s see what our readers had to say on that, and on the rest of the subject of what grandparents owe their adult children:
Our age of entitlement has caused people to feel entitled to all kinds of things, including other people’s time. No grandparent is obligated to regularly care for grandchildren, and they can say no without any guilt. For the grandmother who wrote in, the siblings in the area should be helping each other. It is far easier to watch children when one still has children at home. My kids are older now and I help out friends occasionally. I can’t believe how much harder it is now because I am not geared up for little ones and my home is not even child resistant, much less child proof.
That said, the grandparents can set limits that work for them and politely go deaf if the kids make snide comments. Some things should just be ignored. For someone whose kids see their grandmother every week, it is downright comical to say they don’t know her. Laughing might be an appropriate response.
I never had any family help at all because I was too far away, and it was very difficult. These children need to be grateful to get any help and support at all instead of being greedy for more.
If it really gets to be too much, as soon as the last child leaves, Grandma and Grandpa can go on a mission and get some peace.
As for me, I plan to spend as much time with grandkids as I can. Even so I would be miffed if any of my kids took me for granted or did not respect whatever limits I set.
I don’t know about being a grandmother or even a mother, Liz, but the concept of entitlement is something I can understand. I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve read many times that lack of gratitude is considered one of the gravest of sins. The whole concept that anyone ? including God ? owes us anything is beyond my comprehension.
Children who believe they are entitled to their parents’ time and energy even after they’ve left the nest may have problems that run deeper than the problem of where to find a babysitter. In fact, our next letter shows just that.
Although my oldest son tells me that all of his friends have parents who love to watch their children, subtly laying a guilt trip on me, I do not want to babysit. I raised seven children on my own, asking my parents to babysit one time, and my in-laws to babysit once during a high school reunion. Other than that, we hired sitters or stayed home.
Now that my son has bought a humongous house (five bedrooms for three children) and a huge SUV, they are strapped financially and the wife has to work, but still, no, I do not want to babysit. My husband and I made do with a small house and an old, beat-up station wagon so I could stay home with the children. If my kids want to overextend themselves, it is their business, but don’t come asking me to babysit to make up for their financial follies.
I’ve raised my children and finally have some free time to do the things I want to do, such as write. I had to put aside my dream of writing for years and years while my children were young. I’m not going to put it aside again for grandchildren.
With all that said, I have told my kids that I am willing to babysit when needed, but not for regular, weekly daycare. I’ve been there, done that with my own kids. If my daughter-in-law is sick and needs me to watch her kids for a day or two, I’m happy to help. If they can’t get a sitter and want to go out to eat for an anniversary or to go to the temple, bring the kids here. Glad to watch them. Just don’t ask me to do so regularly. I have dreams of my own to fulfill and my time on earth is running out. To everything there is a season. And this season is mine!
Well said, Marlene. It seems that part of the problem is that some children think of their parents as parents and never make the transition to thinking of them as people. It is probably incomprehensible to your son that you want to spend your time writing. When it’s his turn to retire and pursue his own dreams, the shoe may be on the other foot.
When I was growing up many, many years ago, my mother told us and reminded us that she would be there to help if we had a serious need, but she had raised her children and she expected us to raise ours. My mother never left us with her mother even when we lived in the same house (different apartments). And although my husband’s parents shared our home for more than 30 years, they never had babysitting duty although they were available if there was an emergency and we were gone.
Granny says all of her children live close. Why don’t they share babysitting? We have ten children, and our children know not to ask us for “Friday night.” We have filled in for emergencies but most of the time the kids have helped each other even then! They have found that their children would rather spend time with cousins than at Grandma’s where there are no toys or video games.
Grannies have a special place in the lives of grandchildren and should not be a substitute mom and dad. Now that is not to say that there are exceptions when illness, death, and divorce must be considered. However, I think there are few real reasons why Grandma has to become a substitute.
A Mom of 10
You make good points, Mom of 10. Granny, why can’t your adult children swap childcare services and free up time to do the things you have dreamed about doing for lo, these many years?
Sadly, the time for training may be past. Many parents are incapable of teaching their children the basic attitude of appreciation for life, gratitude and respect for previous generations.
Those who are parents today, should remember to be grateful for their parents and respectful of their lives. The grandchildren will learn, by example, to have appropriate love and respect for grandparents if parents show the way by being adults and living their lives without undue dependency upon the grandparents.
Adult children are not entitled to excessive babysitting services and to take up the time and resources of their parents. We who are grandparents love to help and support our children and to spend time and interact with our grandchildren, within the bounds of reason. Our offspring should understand those bounds well before leaving the nest.
North Richland Hills, Texas
I think you hit the nail on the head, Kelly, when you said that our offspring should understand what the grandparents are planning for their retirement “well before leaving the nest.” If parents are open with their children throughout their childhood, the children won’t have excuse to act surprised when they leave home and the parents go on a mission, devote themselves to genealogy, become temple workers, start a new career, or even hop on a cruise ship and travel to Timbuktu.
I think it would help Granny personally if she decided not to be resentful when she says yes to babysitting her grandkids. This is not for the kids but for her. She has not been released from the calling as mother, but in fact added the calling of grandmother. She would feel a lot happier and enjoy her grandkids a lot more if she were to stop looking at the things her grandkids are keeping her from doing and realize the opportunities she is receiving to pass on family history stories and testimony or other service. Not much different than kids versus career if you ask me, but what a legacy.
That being said, notice I said says yes when she is asked to babysit. I don’t think she should feel obligated to say yes all of the time. She should not say yes all of the time. Here are some ideas:
- If she is gone on a trip, she can’t possibly say yes to babysitting, and if the kids are resenting her being gone, maybe she needs to go on trips more often.
- Start talking up a mission now and get the family on board so when the time comes your teenager is gone and you are ready the family will be asking when you are going and not thrown off and upset by your announcement.
- Have a set weekly time to attend the temple, and make it known. Then everyone will expect you to be unavailable and you will not be asked.
- Do the same with the family history center as with the temple.
- Create a Granny’s day or morning/afternoon out to tend grandkids, and then moms can plan to run errands on that day. Make this the only time you babysit each week. This may not work if you have too many grandkids, but maybe the older ones can help out. If you present it this way, you might be surprised at the happy reaction.
- Suggest the kids create a mothers’ day out amongst themselves or call on each other more often. Realize that if you have been bullied into saying yes all of the time, you are probably the first one they call. They haven’t had to look for other options because Granny is always there. That alone should help you feel less guilty about the next suggestion.
- Practice saying, “Oh, I am sorry, but I am busy.” (You may have to repeat phrase several times.) You don’t need to offer an explanation for how you are busy. If that’s too hard for you, you can just let the phone go to voice mail. This could be a difficult transition, but realize you have been the one to say yes in the past and now you have to learn to say no.
- Continually reassure them you love their kids and remind them of the time you spend with them. Remind them that wishing to not be abused as the free family babysitter doesn’t make you a bad grandma. There are plenty of kids who don’t live near their parents and they have to be gone less or (gasp) pay someone to babysit. None of your kids can make you say yes and if you present this new position with love and without quitting completely (at least at first), your children will get used to the new setup. Afterwards, when you do babysit, you will not have to feel resentful because you chose to say yes and were not pressured.
Motherless in Murray
What a great list, Motherless! Granny — and other grandparents in her shoes — are sure to find something in that list that will help them move away from their doormat state.
When my children were tiny, I loved nothing more than to sit and hold them while they slept, teach them, play with them, snuggle them, knit or sew for them. I couldn’t do it all the time, of course, and I don’t remember ever feeling that I’d be glad when they’d all left home. I didn’t save lots of things to do when I was done with the kids; I had a flexible professional career for years while there were still kids at home, and finished a PhD.
Then they all did leave, including their dad. All four boys did move back for various brief periods, and I didn’t have a dining room for ten years because it was always someone’s bedroom. Neither of the girls came back, and the boys all left again, and are scattered across two continents, having turned into grownups I like.
Now I’ve retired, and ostensibly have time to do all those things, I still don’t have time. I was called as Relief Society president, and I’m still active professionally in a small way. Now that my grandchildren are anywhere from tiny to supercharged and gangly, there is nothing I love more than to sit and hold the tiny ones while they sleep, teach them, play with them, snuggle them, knit or sew for them, whenever I get the chance. I don’t even mind changing messy bottoms. None of my children has ever taken me for granted, and it’s still probably the most important and most satisfying work I will ever get to do on this earth. It’s a privilege. I love it.
It sounds as though you have a great life, BevP. I think the key for you is that none of your children has ever taken you for granted. If a son moves back home for a while and shows appreciation for your sacrifice, or if your children are grateful instead of expectant when you take the grandkids off their hands, it gives you the freedom to make any sacrifices of your own free will, rather than feeling pressured into doing something that may be a hardship for you.
Here’s the point of view of someone who wishes she were in Granny’s shoes:
Count your many blessings! My son’s wife has had four miscarriages, and my daughter had a son who died one day after his birth. So there are no grandchildren for me, yet. What a blessing and privilege it will be to be surrounded by grandchildren as frequently as you, if I am lucky enough to live close enough to all of them!
M in TX
You make a good point, M in TX.
It’s amazing how often in life the things that some people consider hardships, other people would consider blessings. I remember getting a phone call once from someone who was morning sick throughout the whole nine months of her pregnancy, every time she was pregnant. I wondered why she thought I would be a good sounding board, considering I’m sick all the time and don’t have any children to show for it.
My wife and I collectively have 9 children and 22.5 grandchildren. Number 23 is due next month.
We have made it clear from the beginning that our time is ours and that each child must be considerate. We’ve told them we will not be second-time parents. Unless there is a tragedy (death or sickness of spouses), the kids are theirs to raise and ours to spoil. We did have one son-in-law (now a former) try to pawn off his son on us, but we held fast. Eventually, his parents in Alaska took the boy and his sister adopted him and is now raising him full-time.
We watch our grandchildren when it is convenient for us and when we are able to do it. Sometimes we “sacrifice” and rearrange our schedule to accommodate a situation, but that is not the norm. Some may say we are selfish. My response is, “Yes, we are.” We are selfish with the time we have left together. We have set boundaries and we are going to maintain them. You will constantly hear the refrain, “We raised our kids; now you go raise yours.” I love it and I am not afraid to say it. Do not let manipulation or guilt cause you to move your fence. Enjoy your time and enjoy your peace. You have earned it.
When those occasions do arise where you are watching a child or children, it is important to set some boundaries. Never take any more than you can safely handle. Have the parents help prepare the meals or have them brought to you. Have the children and parents help clean up the mess their children make. Set a specific time for pickup of the children.
Do not let anyone impinge on your time. Time is sacred. You can offer your services as a gift. Your time is valuable and should be treated as such.
The most important thing to remember is that you are always a parent, even when the children are grown. You are actually doing them a favor by showing them how to set boundaries and how to maintain them. If you are married, get your spouse involved and stand united.
TO CHILDREN READING THIS: Be considerate. Do not assume that we parents owe you anything other than our love and respect. You are not automatically entitled to anything other than that. If you had children out of wedlock or at a time in your life when it wasn’t convenient for you, ask yourself, “What would I be doing if Mom and Dad were not around?” Work it out in your own mind before you go asking others to solve life’s challenges. Do your best first, do your very best.
Marc “Poppy” Strickland
That was a great letter, Marc. What you said about setting an example for your children how to set boundaries was priceless, as was the counsel to children to not expect others to solve life’s challenges. Well done!
P.S. Yes, readers, there really is such a place as Niceville, Florida. And for those of us who have not yet taken down the Christmas tree, there is also an Eggnog, Utah.
Most of my grandchildren are nearby, which I think is great. However, I dropped clues even before retirement that I was not an endless babysitter. Now we are on a full-time, live-at-home mission, so we really don’t have the time to babysit. I will pitch in when there is an emergency, but there are few real emergencies where that is necessary.
Our kids have learned to rely on each other more for help since Grandma and Grandpa are too busy with callings. Our home is still open as long as our children clean up their children’s messes. Often we come home after a day of missionary work to find clues that grandchildren have been there, but it’s nice that we have to look for the clues. The first time we came home to a mess we were on the phone to have the culprit return for clean-up. That was followed with a treat to reinforce the training.
Yes, we have had a son return to live at home with two children in tow. That lasted several years but was necessary at the time. That was before our retirement and was hard but was better than having them homeless. We did not make a lot of special considerations to make it more comfortable than necessary. There were times it was hard, but there were times it was good. After they moved out we realized how much was good. The “kids’” room is still intact as a play room.
Good ideas, Clued-In. I like the idea that you allowed your son and his family to live at home but didn’t make a lot of effort to make it so cushy he’d want to stay there forever. Good for you, to look on the bright side while they were there — and to be able to look at the good times once they left.
I think there can be a happy medium between both extremes. Parents of young children have a responsibility to find and pay for their own childcare. Whether it’s every day to go to work or occasionally for an evening out, parents should understand that having grandparents who offer to babysit is a blessing, not a given.
I think that grandparents should help out if able in emergencies and during times of great financial stress, but certainly not to free up money for other endeavors. The grandmother with a large, local family may want to begin the practice of visiting her grandchildren in their homes (with their parents present), as opposed to hers. This would give her the control of how long the visit lasts. In addition, behavior issues can be handled by the parents, and her home remains safe!
Adult children need to be sensitive to the needs and wishes of their parents and not take advantage. At the same time, and grandparents need to express those needs and wishes instead of harboring resentment about being taken advantage of.
As for adult children returning home, I feel that family must pull together and do what they must in an emergency. Grandparents never know when they may be faced with a health or financial crisis that would force them to move in with their children! That being said, an emergency is having no income and no way to provide food and shelter for your family. It is not saving on rent, food, and utilities by crashing with Mom and Dad to save up for a house, car, or whatever.
Mary, Mom of Two Little Ones and Daughter to Aging Parents Who Need Plenty of Help
MMTLODAPWNPH, you’re the first one who pointed out that one day the parents may need to move in with the adult children.
That’s something to chew on!
By the way, if you’re a parent who is thinking you may one day want to move in with one of your children, please be kind enough to your children that they will want to have you in their home. It isn’t just children who take advantage of their children. Sometimes it goes in the other direction.
All of my children all college educated, own their own homes, and are capable parents and providers.
I told them before there were any children that I was not going to be a full-time baby-tender. Additionally, they should determine if it was more profitable for both of them to work after the extra expenses of childcare, automobile and clothing. I would always be available in emergencies, for sick children, for temple trips and for an occasional date night, but that I did not intend to be a full time babysitter in retirement.
My daughters generally chose degrees that permitted flexibility. One is a college professor, one is a CCU nurse, and one owns her own consulting company. My daughter-in-law worked full-time before children and now does public relations consulting from home for a few clients. The children have, with their spouses, worked out what is best for their families. Some work when the spouse will be at home, and others use minimal child care. One has a regular nanny three days a week so she can leave home.
I think the key is talking about childcare before there are children — even while your kids are preparing for adulthood and careers. How does this career blend with your parenting ideals? Some 70-80% of women do work outside the home by necessity, and young adults need to plan how they will handle these responsibilities.
Good points, California. It’s smart to talk to your daughters (and even your sons) about career choices that take their parenting goals into account. It’s never too early to start preparing your children for the future.
Okay, people, that’s it for today. I have plenty more letters to get us through the next too weeks, so you may not want to send any more comments on the subject unless you’re so passionate that you just can’t sit still. We have a good topic coming up, so you may want to save your comments for then.
Until next time — Kathy
“Just when a couple is able to afford to go out evenings,
they’re too busy babysitting with their grandchildren.”