Grandbabies: Been There, Done That

April 24, 2017

In an age where most households require two incomes, finding safe and affordable childcare is a challenge. Grandparents are often first to be called upon for childcare. But what happens if they don’t want to babysit?

If we only paid attention to the media, we’d all have a very basic understanding of grandparents. You know, those snowy haired, soft-spoken angels who effortlessly glide through the front door bearing treats for the kids. And what’s more, they always have an unspoken, wise way of taming even the most active children. They’re retired, and would love nothing better to do between cruises and Bingo than to babysit. That’s so charming, isn’t it?

But in real life, sometimes grandma dyes her hair, wears skinny jeans, and wants to kick it with bae (who may or may NOT be grandpa, but that’s another discussion). She has no intention of discontinuing the activities she enjoys in exchange for babysitting. Bingo is not her thingo, and she’s not even “grandma”. She’s got some cute trendy pet name so that when her grandchildren repeat it to other people, they imagine her being youthful and fashionable. Nevertheless, she is still a wonderful grandmother, a great example to her grandchildren, and . . . she’s happy. Happy grandparents are the best.

As parents, we have to appreciate OUR parents for having parented us (say that three times fast!). We love to watch them interact with our children, and we appreciate them giving us breaks or helping us out when we need childcare so that we can go to work. But childcare isn’t their responsibility.

This is a complex topic because ideas differ depending upon the family, community and culture. In some families, sending a child to daycare or a camp is out of the question. Children are viewed as the family’s responsibility and everyone makes sacrifices to provide care for them. In other families, independence is highly valued and so finding help outside of the family structure is a must. Other times, grandparents are working into older age to make ends meet for themselves, so babysitting isn’t even an option for them.

Times are different. When I was small, I spent lots of time with my grandparents. My grandmother was a stay at home mother and wife when I was born, and she helped to care for me too, well into my teenage years. There were no smart phones or tablets or computers around back then. Most of the time I spent with my grandparents were on exciting adventures to the grocery store and the hardware store. And on a nice spring day, we went to the nursery and I helped choose which flowers my grandfather would plant that season. Our time together was structured around errands and typical life activities. And they made that time enjoyable for me. That was their choice.

Today, children are all but tethered to electronic devices, and they seem more precocious than ever. They are a generation of children who have been raised with entertainment and other activities structured around their happiness. Some grandparents may struggle with how to spend time with a child who only seems interested in playing games on their cell phone. There’s definitely a generational aspect to it. And a learning curve. Most grandparents who I know are doing a fantastic job of loving and learning their tech savvy grandchildren, while maintaining their own senses of self. As parents, we have to provide balance. We need to allow our parents to enjoy their grandchildren, but we should understand their need to be child free sometimes.

We need more workplace policies that benefit parents and guardians. This is not about receiving special treatment, or punishing people who are not parents. This is about creating a society that understands the value of family and caregiving. It’s about understanding that by allowing people more flexibility on the job, and providing more safe and affordable care options, we enhance people’s overall life sense of satisfaction. It’s about understanding that when people are happier and less stressed, they’ll be better employees, and happier parents who can raise well-adjusted children. And if you’re not worried about the health and happiness of children, you should be. They’ll be taking care of us someday.

Take Care,

D. Southern

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