Family Q&A: Should grandparents feel obligated to babysit?

2012-01-30T13:00:00Z Family Q&A: Should grandparents feel obligated to babysit?By Colleen O'Reilly Wiemerslage | Special to the Tribune La Crosse Tribune

Q: Today is the first time I have not had to babysit for my grandchildren since the school year began. I truly love my kids and their children, but I really don't want to be a full-time child care provider.

I have four grandkids, and three of them are not in school yet and are ages 2, 3 and 3½ from two families. I asked off for today because I had a dentist and doctor appointment, and even going to the dentist was more fun than being here all day with my three young ones.

I want my grandkids to be special, but if I take care of them each day, it causes me to feel like the charm of being just their grandma gets lost. I brought this on myself when my children were first having their babies by saying I would help out. I never defined what help out meant, and when the question was asked, "Will you take care of so and so?" I simply answered "yes".

Now I regret my commitment, and I want to find a way to make a change.

My husband thinks I should invite each family over and sit down with the parents and tell them where I stand. I would give them a few weeks to get a day care set up, and then I would be willing to be the back-up if they need something extra.

I have a difficult time telling my kids I won't babysit because I feel like I am letting them down.

I have thought about the pros and cons of my doing this, and I have even considered how my kids will handle this change in schedule. I believe they will be a little surprised and maybe even upset because they feel so good and safe about the kids being at grandma and grandpa's house. The pros are mostly in my court in that I have freedom again, and I can enjoy being just their grandma. The cons are that I will disappoint my kids and see my grandkids less. I have always been a very giving person, and it is difficult for me to ask for what I want and need.

This feels like one of those moments because it is all about me. I definitely need to make a change but I am struggling with what and how to approach the change.

A: I couldn't agree more — taking full-time care of your grandchildren results in them being less special. The fact that you felt going to the dentist was more fun than babysitting full time for your grandkids speaks volumes. Your husband has made a valid suggestion for how to make this change, and I understand that if you are not used to putting yourself first, this could be a stretch for you to explain to your kids.

I suggest you write a letter to each of your kids, telling them why you want to make this change, explaining it just the way you did to me. Play with the letter until it feels right, but don't mail it. Ask your husband to role play with you. You role play one of your children, and your husband can role play you — after all, he knows you well. Use the letter you wrote as a tool to begin the conversation. Playing roles other than yourselves gives you both a different view of the situation. When you are done talk about what it felt like and see if you can learn anything new.

Consider this a dress rehearsal for the conversations you will have with your kids. Practice will make it easier for you to say what you need to say. Being direct and to the point makes it easier on the listener as well as you.

As mothers, we are still the primary care givers and often find it difficult to ask for what we need. This does not mean that our spouses or children will be disappointed if we change this role it just means that we have to introduce them to another side of us that we haven't shared with them yet.

I also have young grandchildren, ages 4, 9 months and 1 month. I love them and have offered my services for limited periods of time — at birth to help with the adjustment home, for a week when they come to visit, but I have also told their parents that I would not want to babysit full time, even if it were possible, because I want our relationship to be special, as you suggested.

Recently my son and his wife asked whether I could give them a month this spring to take care of the newborn so they can keep her home longer. We live in different cities, so I would have to live with them. We will be visiting this spring for 2½ weeks, and we will help out then — but a month is too long for me to be in their home and out of my life. I felt the pangs of saying no, as you said, but I wouldn't be a happy mother or grandmother, and I don't want my feelings to reflect on all of them.

I think being retired and being a grandma means many things, but I do not believe it includes having to raise your grandchildren. It is up to you to change the situation, and I wouldn't offer any back-up babysitting as you finish this deal. Keep it clean and cut the ties.

When you are ready to offer a night or day here or there, then make it on your terms and you will truly cherish the time you give. It sounds like learning to take what you want and need in life is long overdue for you. Look at this as a new challenge or an opportunity to learn how to ask for what you want.

Keep in mind that you also are teaching your children more about you and perhaps validating and modeling good self care for your daughters or daughter-in-laws.

Colleen O'Reilly Wiemerslage is a teacher, counselor, writer and parent of two adult children. She can be reached at

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