Why is it that sometimes the people closest to you – friends and relatives – feel entitled to give you a hard time over your life choices, even when it doesn’t affect them at all?
Someone I know recently told me that by caring for my 21-month-old granddaughter I’m letting my son and his wife “take advantage of me.” After all, she argued, we raised our kids without any help from an on-call babysitter. Why should our grown-up children get a break from us with their families, when we had to soldier on by ourselves?
I know some of this talk comes from envy. This person has a grandchild who lives far away. I suspect she’d be singing a different tune if she had better access to her grandkid.
But even if that wasn’t the case, the “we raised our kids now it’s your turn” argument wouldn’t cut any ice with me. Sure, I’m happy to give my daughter-in-law a break from childcare two afternoons a week by caring for my granddaughter. But that’s not the only reason I do it.
I take care of my granddaughter because I want to. And I benefit from the time she and I spend together as much as I hope she does.
It’s important to me to have a close personal relationship with my granddaughter and any other grandchildren I may have in the future. And a close relationship is not something you can turn on at Christmas, or some day when it’s convenient for you and your grandkids are more grown up, or potty-trained.
As you do with anyone, you earn a good relationship with your grandkids by simply putting in the time to be with them. You change diapers, get some baby furniture, buy raspberries because it’s their favorite food (which you know because you help out at mealtimes) soothe them when they’re fussy and play with them whenever you get a chance, even if playing with them just means stacking blocks for them to knock down. You take the grandkids to the park or the library when you can and their parents can’t because they’re too busy taking care of their children in other important ways.
My own parents were the epitome of “we raised our kids so don’t bother us with yours.” My parents had eight beautiful grandchildren, two of whom died young. My parents scarcely knew any of them. Once their four children left home at age 18, my parents proceeded with their lives as though they never had any kids, much less grandkids. They never offered to babysit any of their grandchildren, and expressed scorn for grandparents who did.
My parents had their own reasons for their actions, which I’ve tried to understand, but mostly I’m baffled. I felt abandoned by their lack of interest in my family, and it was especially rough when I was a young mother with two children.
My folks are gone now, and as near as I could tell from what they said and did they never regretted missing out on the experience of being grandparents. Well, that’s not me or my husband. We welcome the opportunity to support our children as much as we can in their roles as parents, and we’re grateful we do so.
Maybe, at times, we do overcompensate a bit for what we didn’t get. We know we need to set reasonable boundaries, for everybody’s sake. But those will be our boundaries, not the boundaries friends or relatives pressure us to impose.
We’re acutely aware that, God willing, our lives will overlap only a portion of our grandkids’ lives. That’s just the circle of life. We plan to enjoy being grandparents and watching our grandkids grow for as long as we can.
So, do I allow my son to take advantage of me? Should I say no when I get the chance to spend the afternoon one-on-one with my granddaughter?
No way. I feel lucky that my flexibility as a freelancer permits me to carve out time to be with my granddaughter.
If that’s being taken advantage of, then I guess I’m a fool.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a tea party to attend. It’s taking place on the living room floor at the foot of the sofa, and it’s by invitation only – me, my granddaughter, Dolly, Big Dog, Puppy Dog, Soft Kitty and Brown Bear are today’s lucky guests. We’ll be feasting on Cheerios and pretend tea.
And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
How about you other grandparents out there, reading this? Has anyone ever accused you of being taken advantage of? If so, how’d you respond?