Cleaning out the Nest in Delaware

Readers, Delaware’s advice about saying no isn’t just for grandparents and their children.  There are times when all of us are strong-armed by people who want us to perform acts of service for them at a cost that may be too high for us to pay.  Follow Delaware’s admonition to not cave in.  Nobody is expected to run faster than she has strength.

As I write this I am lying in a darkened room waiting for my nerves to stop jangling after a week of having several of my grandchildren to stay. Actually I lie; it isn’t quite that bad, although I am in serious need of some quiet time out. 

I consider myself very fortunate in having my five grandchildren, aged 14 years down to 9 months, living close enough for them to visit at reasonably frequent intervals.  However, it can’t be denied that despite the joy of having their company and knowing that they love to spend time with Grandma, it is also very stressful.  Aged 60, single, and in full-time work, the influx of a bunch of noisy and energetic children into my quiet existence comes as a severe shock to my system.  Fortunately my daughters recognize this and try not to take advantage. 

Parents, unless your circumstances are particularly difficult, you do not have the right to use grandparents as a freely available babysitting service, even if Grandma does live just around the corner.  You are grownups now, and should look to your own resources first. 

That doesn’t mean you and your siblings can’t come to a mutually satisfactory arrangement with your parents, or call on them in emergencies, but you have no right to assume they will drop everything to come running every time you call. 

You need to bear in mind that even though your parents may appear active and healthy, they are getting on in years and probably don’t have the physical, mental or emotional resources to cope with your children on a weekly basis.  They have done parenting — that was you, remember — and are now entitled to live their own lives and fulfill some of their own dreams. 

Your turn for this will come.  Grandparents’ responsibilities are to reinforce family values, pass along family traditions, provide support, encouragement and wise counsel when required and act their shoe size and not their age around their grandchildren.  There is a time and season to every purpose under the heavens.  Grandparenting has its own place and purpose in family life.

Angela Barratt

Angela, your list of grandparents’ responsibilities should be made into a refrigerator magnet and posted on the refrigerators of grandparents everywhere.  Thanks for sending it!

Our next two letters are from grandparents who wish they had the opportunity to babysit their grandchildren.  Let’s see what they have to say:

I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum. We’re lucky to see our four kids and grandkids once a year. It’s been seven years since we’ve seen the oldest and six for the youngest. I’m finally getting so I don’t shed a tear or two every day because I miss them so much. I’m thankful for Facebook so I at least know what they look like and a little of what they’re doing.

My husband and I lived in our RV for a year and a half to help our youngest get through school with five kids and a husband who works nights. We waded right in and disrupted things in general but were able to be there after school and cook for them once in a while. So I know I could be happy living closer to them but don’t know how they would feel about it.

I’m not good at relationships (too pushy), but I’d really enjoy seeing them all at least weekly. I wouldn’t have any trouble saying no sometimes if they depended on me too much for babysitting. 

Here’s something to consider.  Years ago our adult son asked me for some help (I forget what) and I did help, even though it cost me too much energy.  My rationale was, “He wouldn’t ask if he didn’t really need it.” When I mentioned it in passing months later he said, “I just thought I would ask and if you couldn’t help, you would say so!” So just say so!

Lonely Granny

You make a good point, Lonely.  Sometimes people ask us for favors because we’re the first names that pop to mind.  Sometimes all it takes is to say, “I’ll do it if you can’t find anybody else, but it would be hard for me to perform this particular service.”  I’ve done that more than once, and usually when I do it, the person is able to find someone who is in a better position to do what is needed.

I guess this topic has touched a nerve with me. How I wish I had my grandchildren living nearby so that I could babysit! They live in another province and I’m fortunate to see them once a year. I guess there is part of me that is amazed that “Grandma in another state” isn’t counting her blessings that her children and grandchildren are close by!

In my mind, yes — parenting is a generational commitment. You aren’t a parent only for 18 years (or however long it is until your child leaves home). However, I don’t believe grown children have the right to expect their parents to babysit whenever they ask. Their parents have lives too. Some boundaries need to be in place, and that can be uncomfortable to maintain sometimes. We all need to learn to say no, and that is not as easy as it sounds!

I also have a relatively unique perspective on this as I am an adult child living in the same home (albeit separate living quarters) with my elderly parents. It is their house. When my husband deserted me and three children (aged 9-13) and left us pretty well destitute, my parents sold their home and bought another one in our community and provided a home for us. I initially was very reluctant to allow them to do this. It was a very big sacrifice on their part. The blessings, however, have been tremendous for all concerned.

I also am a parent with an adult daughter in her 30s living at home because of a longstanding disability. I am also disabled, and neither I nor my daughter is able to work. We never dreamed when we made this arrangement with my parents that three generations living in one house would continue for more than 17 years.

Has it had challenges? Yes. Do I sometimes wish I had my own space with no dependents around me so I could do whatever I want, whenever I want? You bet. Has it been difficult at times? Yes. However, for me, that is not Heavenly Father’s plan. He has put me in this situation to provide care for, and to be cared by, my family. Has it been worth it? Yes! The blessings have been many and marvelous.

As my parents are now elderly and frail, my daughter and I (and my sister who lives next door) are enabling them to remain in their own home rather than having to go into care. It is easier for me to keep a watch on my parents.

I don’t have to travel across town; I can just pop downstairs and check on them. My children have been blessed to have loving grandparents in the home and to help care for them as they age.

Thank goodness we know that Heavenly Father doesn’t tell us He is too busy with stuff to not help us when we need it. But He also tells us no sometimes — and we need to pray and ponder what is best for our unique situation.

Family is what it is all about. There is a season and a time for all things. Trying to balance all that we want and need to do is difficult. It’s part of the learning process called mortality.

Grateful daughter, mother and grandmother

Grateful, your situation is exactly the kind of thing that the Welfare Principles and Leadership handbook that was quoted above was referring to.  Your extended family had — and continues to have — a whole lot of special needs that are best served by family members living and working together to provide the best living situation for everyone.  It’s gratifying that everyone involved has been willing to help one another, and that you are able to recognize the blessings that come with these family sacrifices.

I watched my mother-in-law constantly tend her grandchildren for years and years.  She was always willing, or was able to seem so, and the reward was that her grandchildren all adored her.  When she became old and couldn’t hear or think to carry on a conversation anymore, she still had grown grandchildren who would come a couple of times a week to watch old movies with her and visit.  It seemed like her grandchildren cared more about her even than her own children. 

The lesson I learned from watching this as her primary caregiver for seven years was that what goes around, comes around.  If you sacrifice willingly for others, others will sacrifice willingly for you.  (And if they don’t, the Lord will make sure you are okay anyway)  If you just want to care about yourself, that is very possibly who you will have to care about you when you are in need.  Just as wickedness never was happiness, so selfishness doesn’t produce happiness either. 

A friend once told me that if it didn’t hurt, it wasn’t a sacrifice.  And after all, Christ made the greatest sacrifice of all and we profess to want to be like Him.  Surely we can help others and also take care of our own personal needs and maintain our boundaries as well.  As grandparents we have had a lifetime to learn.  (The words “I am so sorry I can’t this time,” usually work well.)
Just my thoughts.

In God We Trust

Thanks for a reminder, Trust, that we often reap what we sow.  I loved what you wrote about if you sacrifice willingly for others, either those others will take care of you or the Lord will.  Well said.

My mother died just after I graduated from high school, and my father was one who felt that once we were 18 and out the door his responsibility rested there.   

The family is an eternal unit and as such, I believe parents’ responsibilities don’t rest when the children leave the home.  Our door has been open to my son and his wife when they were building their home and when my daughter-in-law was ill.  My 33-year-old daughter comes in and out and I am always glad to have her here. 

There are many late night phone calls and lots of working together through challenges.  When I am thanked for something I do for them, my response has always been and will be, “That’s what moms are for.”

Dianne Kerr

Your children are lucky to have you as a mom, Dianne.  You learned from the negative example that was set by your father, and you and your children are happier for it.

I really love being a grandpa!  When our first was born it was a feeling unlike parenthood and hard to explain, I suppose a combination of experience and time give us a different perspective.  We now have three little grandchildren, ages 6, 3 and 2.

I love them all dearly but spend most of my time with the 6-year-old.  I have made it pretty plain to my children that until they are potty trained I am not really a good babysitter (unless an emergency arises), and they seem to respect this.

On the other hand, my wife is like the Energizer Bunny.  She works 8-12 hours a day and still feels guilty when she doesn’t take the time out for all her grandchildren.  My daughter with the youngest two does feel a little her kids are a little “neglected,” but they are also a lot more work to watch and we try to explain that to her. 

My thoughts are, I never had any grandparents around and it’s a real blessing to have them around but when the kids have these children they have to understand they are their responsibility and we are there for support especially if the grandparents are still working full time.  Don’t feel guilty and let them know they are all loved equally.

Grateful Grandpa in Alberta

Thanks for the great advice to do your best and not feel guilty about the rest, Grateful.  I’m sure your grandchildren enjoy spending time with you and the Energizer Bunny.

Okay, readers, that’s it for this week.  No matter how much you may be tempted, we are not taking any more comments on this subject.  I have enough letters to do one more column, and then that’s it for grandparents — at least, on this subject.

Until next time — Kathy

On the seventh day God rested. His grandchildren must have been out of town.

Gene Perret