Don't Abuse Grandma, She Has Her Own Life
The blogosphere's been aflutter with grandma-babysitting-or-not posts in the past month, with mentions in the New York Times, ParentDish and Grandparents.com. These grandmas, it seems, have something called "their own lives." WHAT?
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my mother and I had The Talk about babysitting. She assured me that she'd be available to help but that I should ask for it, not just expect to get it. She'd waited years to be alone with my father, she said.
Initially I was hurt, but then again, I was also terrified. It was my only pregnancy. I had no idea how much help I'd need. Had I stopped to think about it, I'd have realized that because we don't live in the same city, my mother and father would be severely limited in how much babysitting they could do anyway. My parents would never need fear a daily phone call. In the almost five years my daughter has been around, they've turned us down exactly once when we called and asked them to help us out, a stellar track record, in my opinion. Of course, had my mother not told me upfront about her feelings, we might have called, um, a lot more often.
I know two grandmothers who sit for the grandkids full-time while their kids work. One is paid and one is not. Are their kids taking advantage of them? Where's the line?
Wilmoth Foreman at Grandparents.com cautions grandparents against an open childcare checkbook:
Not so fast. While you relish the extra playtime with the grandbabies and like pitching in, 24/7 nanny duty might, well, hinder your active social life. Without setting boundaries with your adult children early in the game, you run the risk of well-meaning intentions turning into a dreadful hem-and-haw every time you're asked — again — if you'd mind watching the kids.
Perhaps the most famous outspoken granny, Judy Conners of Her Bad Grandma, writes:
You know you're a bad grandma when your daughter calls to ask if you'll watch her kids on Saturday and you tell her that you twisted your ankle and so just can't manage it. Then you jog to the corner to buy a bottle of wine and look forward to your free weekend!
Grandparents are protective of their free time, but they may take it too far, at least from their kids' perspective.
Rachel commented on ParentDish:
My parents are no help. YEARS AGO, I asked my mother to babysit her first grandchild for 2 or 3 days while I was in the hospital giving birth to her second grandchild. It was to much of an inconvience for her! This was the first time I had ever asked her to babysit. I never asked her to babysit again and she has NEVER offered! My father...well...if you're trying to pick-up a woman that's 10 years younger than your daughter, you don't want a little kid around calling you Grandpa! He doesn't babysit (I wouldn't trust him anyway). If you have parents that help, YOU ARE LUCKY!!
Clearly, feelings can get hurt when adult children don't get the level of support they want from their parents and when parents feel used by their adult children. Open communication is key -- my mom gave me her expectations before my daughter came along, and even though it was really, really hard for me to see things from her perspective then, I see her perspective easily now -- when I picture my daughter coming to me in twenty years and asking me to cancel my weekend art fair plans to watch a screaming baby. Funny how that perspective shift works after you become a mom yourself.