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Are grandparents becoming babysitters?

by Vidya Sury September 18, 2017 14 comments
Are grandmothers becoming babysitters Vidya Sury

Last Sunday, when I wished an elderly couple for Grandparents Day, they didn’t look too excited. They said they were so exhausted most of the time that all they wanted to do was rest–they just didn’t have the energy to match their twin grandchildren’s. They had expected life to be very different when their grandchildren came along to visit.  Oh, they love them dearly, but do wish that their own kids wouldn’t take them for granted with the childcare.

But if you were to ask my Mom this question, she would have happily answered with a resounding “Yes!” Of course she’d be speaking for herself. I guess I was one of the truly lucky ones to have such a close bond with my Mom, with the relationship segueing into a loving connection that included my husband, and later, my son when he was born.

When I was pregnant, she was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease and a lung fibrosis. The doctors, after all the investigations were done over a couple of months, gave her, at most, six months to live. I still remember the sparkle in her eye and the laughter in her voice as she shook her finger at the doctor, and told him, “I am not going until I see my grandson grow and reach high school. I have so much to do with him! That’s a promise!”

Well, she almost fulfilled her promise, living for a good twelve years after that, much to the shocked surprise of the doctors who treated her. While her health was unpredictable, her mood was a constant “up” cheering us all on through our own ups and downs in life.

So coming back to that question about grandmothers becoming babysitters…

I grew up with my own grandmother, who was a figure of strength in my life and of course I was completely influenced by her. Ours was a matriarchal family, with my grandfather passing away far too soon and it was my grandmother who was the “ruler” in the family, presiding over us with her magic wand. We had children in the house almost all the time—cousins, neighbor’s kids and friend’s children. Those days, life was different. Many of my friends were raised in joint families where it was quite natural for children to be cared for by their grandparents. Things like “expectations”, “unfair” did not come into the picture. The entire family, including extended family functioned as a single unit.

Not so, these days.

Life and lifestyles have changed in many ways. Both parents go to work in most families and, in fact, the joint family system is also quite rare. Natural in most cases, with family members being spread geographically. In some cases, they are happy to stay in touch, and in some, not so much.

I know many families where the grandparents look forward to looking after their grandchildren. But there are many that do not feel that way, and they  have valid reasons for it. They are not pleased that their own children assume that they will continue their parenting journey with their grandkids, without stopping to think about whether they’re willing to do it.

So the question of whether grandparents are becoming babysitters itself is a prickly one. When parents continue to live with their children, or even in the same neighborhood, there seems an unspoken assumption that it is their natural duty to look after their beloved grandchildren.

There should be two sides to this, just as with everything else.

In principle, spending time with grandparents is wonderful for grandchildren, and a big blessing, particularly if everyone in the family is on good terms with one another. Let’s not forget the added bonus of saving on childcare costs.

But then, is it not fair to consider that grandparents are already done with their  parenting phase and might want to indulge in their own hobbies without being weighed down by the pressure of childcare? It is a huge time commitment, involving a tremendous amount of energy and emotional investment, not to mention the fatigue that invariably follows.

Quite a few grandparents are bullied into this situation, with emotional blackmail—sometimes explicit and guilting them into “doing the right thing”—and that’s not fair.

From the parents’ point of view, they look for these:

  • the children’s safety—chances of this are highest with grandparents
  • the children are well looked after—grandparents invariably dote on their grandchildren
  • the children should be with someone trustworthy—grandparents certainly fit that bill

And as I said earlier, childcare costs, which can be exorbitant, can be saved, allowing the mom to return to work in peace.

Of course, grandparents want to do all they can for their family, but this is justified only when this is voluntary. In her book, “Always a Parent – Managing our longest relationship” the author Gauri Dange devotes an entire chapter to this situation. She says, “Whether the issue is “too interfering” or “doing too little”, both sets of parents, older and younger, must refrain from assuming or presuming anything. It makes sense to have frank discussions about mutual expectations, as well as limitations”

To maintain a healthy connection, and make the whole experience smooth for all concerned, I feel these are some good points to keep in mind:

  • Some grandparents look forward to being full time babysitters, and some may not. Parents must respect this. Some grandparents enjoy the involvement, but prefer to do so on their own terms, with the freedom to go after their own interests and decide whether they want to help—or not.
  • Any conflict in parenting approaches must be identified—and this works both ways. It is only fair that grandparents respect their own children’s parenting ideas. When this does not happen, it can upset the relationship. In our case, we had clear boundaries—there were certain things my Mom would simply not interfere in.
  • What happens if grandparents are limited in their mobility because they have health issues? They will find it tough to keep up with hyperactive children. This must be viewed compassionately.
  • Perhaps the most important thing of all is being open with communication—and not take each other for granted. It is best to agree on certain rules from the start—things like when the children should eat/sleep—how long they can watch TV and a list of dos and don’ts, and a discussion on safety issues.
  • And once an agreement is reached, the parents must trust the grandparents’ judgment without breathing down their neck constantly. They must let go. If there are deviations, as long as they are minor, that’s okay. There’s no need to hurt them or make them feel resentful.
  • If there are any unique issues with the child’s temperament/moods, and there are special ways to tackle them, these must be shared with the grandparents. It is also a good idea to let them know about their child’s fears, if any, their favorite toys and things like that, to make it easier. Medications, emergency contact information and other critical stuff must be readily available to avoid grandparents panicking, looking for them.
  • Most of all, parents must appreciate the value that grandparents to the family equation. Recognize that grandparents want to be grandparents, not parents! The sad thing is, when they are taken for granted and taken advantage of, they feel too bad to speak up—so it is good to be alert to this.

In the end, the question of whether grandparents are becoming babysitters: has no right or wrong answer, as it is entirely dependent on the family and its unique situation.

Few things are more wonderful than a family where every member respects and loves one another without feeling pressurized.

What is your take?

Do you think grandparents are becoming babysitters?

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She Who Dances With Angels September 19, 2017 at 12:16 pm

I have grandbaby #4 due this Oct. and I have to say, I’m always on call if my children need me. Granted, they’re 2000 miles away but when we all lived in the same state I couldn’t get enough time with my grandbabies. And I will fly to them at the drop of a hat. Trust me on that. – I have two grandkids visiting in less than two weeks and then I’m flying back to see all of my grandbabies! I can’t wait to hold my new granddaughter. 🙂 – My mom was much different. “I raised mine. You raise yours.” She’d say. I always just figured she had 7 kids, maybe she was just tired of the whole kid thing. Who knows. – I’m definitely a hands on grandma. 🙂

Vidya Sury September 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm

I am not at all surprised at you, Karen! Your love for your family is obvious! Wishing you a lot of good times! Sadly, some parents, even though they’d love to spend time with their grandbabies, don’t get to do it when they would like and have to make do with when their own kids decide to let them, invariably when they need it. It is sad. Then, whether it is convenient or not, the grandparents end up agreeing, because they feel bad to say no.

Hugs! Thank you for your lovely comment. My Mom was like that, too!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Are grandparents becoming babysitters?

Soumya September 19, 2017 at 12:40 pm

You know this is another reason I don’t want to have a child. I want to be able to feel the need to have one and for that I need to be sure that I have all the time in the world for the child and can take care of them myself. My parents and in-laws live in the same city and just a few minutes away, but I will never burden them with the task of taking care of my children. They have does their share of parenting and babysitting with us anyway.

Grandparents are for story telling, unconditional love, tamarind toffees and baby powder smelling hugs. Baby sitting once in a while is fine, but being unpaid maids to them is NOT.

I have friends who pop out children and leave them with their aged parents and go about life. Such parents are already battling old age and poor health and they are made to run around hyperactive kids. Worse thing is that their own children blame them later for not bringing them up the right way. If you want it done right, do it yourself.

Vidya Sury September 19, 2017 at 1:09 pm

I agree with you, Soumya! In my case, my Mom’s involvement was voluntary and we made loving rules right from the beginning. We ordered her never to give up her “me” time because her grandson was calling. She was a voracious reader and had other hobbies too. Of course, being the person she was, she managed to involve her grandson in many things and they had a wonderful and loving relationship. He gave back as much as she gave him of herself. And we were firm about not making her responsible for anything that would be taxing on her. But then we were very lucky that all four of us were crazy about one another. In my aunt’s house, the atmosphere used to always be one of resentment–and that’s no way to enjoy a relationship.

I admire you for your attitude and thoughts and yes, we mustn’t allow anyone to take away the things that help us grow into our relationships. Love you–but you already know that! Hugs!
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Janice Goveas September 19, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Being a single parent i am very blessed to have my mum and dad supporting me. While I would like to have her with me all the time and my child is safest with her i have to learn to let go because i realise she is getting older and also wants to have her life. I used to kind of use emotional blackmail earlier but now i know better. Learning to live with my challenges is important for me as an individual as well. I am able to manage better without her most of the time now.

Tina Basu September 19, 2017 at 5:39 pm

This is the sad reality for a lot of grandparents today. That was one of the main reasons for me to quit my work to look after my child. Our parents have already brought us up and now to again burden them up with a kid at this age is not justified. They want to enjoy their life and they must do it now when they don’t have too many responsibilities. I have seen this happening from close quarters and feel bad for these grandparents who are bound at home being care takers for their grandchildren.
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Nisha Punjabi September 19, 2017 at 6:46 pm

My brother’s children stay with my parents a lot. My mother cribs but then she likes the fact that she is helping and her life has a purpose.
On the other hand, my SIL refuses to leave her kid with my in-laws even for a day for unexplained reasons and they crave for his company.
It is way too complicated. But I also know that most grandparents would love to take care of their grand children. It is not baby-sitting in that case 🙂
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upasna September 20, 2017 at 5:32 pm

I live in a Joint Family and My Parents live in the same city. My Mother is retired now and my MIL will be retired next year. But still I won’t leave him with any of them. One, because, it did not come from them (and I respect their decision; they are in a phase where they should have a liberty to enjoy this phase) and secondly, Kiddo may engage in more TV or Video watching; which is obvious as Grandparents cannot match up with Kid’s energy level. He will be going to Day care only. Though he stayed with both Grandmothers when he was an Infant, all day sleeping, pooping and eating. I feel it should be a joint decision and not forced. Each set of parents should talk openly.

Darla M Sands September 20, 2017 at 8:36 pm

When grandchildren started coming along my father told my brothers that he and our mom were not going to be a babysitting service. I understand that my brothers resented that, but I thought Dad was brilliant. Of course I never had children of my own, so my take is very different. Namaste, my dear.

Donna Merrill September 22, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Hi Vidya,

This is so true, being a parent myself, I have always got support, hence I really loved reading your post. Thanks for sharing such an interesting article.

~ Donna
Donna Merrill recently posted…Top 3 Best Portable Pickleball Nets 2017

Vidya Sury September 23, 2017 at 11:05 am

Thank you, Donna! Lovely to see you here.
(I had no idea what is pickleball until I read your post!)
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Samara September 30, 2017 at 3:28 am

Hi Vidya, you ask a tough question with this article! I have 2 small kids, and my parents live on a different continent, so they can’t help us out, though I know they’d love to. Anything for the family. My in-laws, in contrast, live a few hours away but are never interested in coming to see us and spend time with the kids. I respect their decision, but it saddens me. I see lots of kids at the part every day with their grandparents, and I often think how lucky they are—both the kids and the grandparents—to be able to spend time together. I wish my kids had the same thing!

Isabella Chris December 11, 2017 at 7:00 pm

Hi Vidya,
Being a parent myself, I have always got support,
I really loved reading your post.


Vidya Sury December 16, 2017 at 5:50 pm

Glad to hear it, Isabella! Thank you for coming by!
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