Dear Amanda and Suzanne:
My granddaughter Leila will turn 3 in a few days. Since she was born my wife has been the happiest grandmother anyone could imagine. Our son only lives a few miles away so we can pretty much see Leila anytime we want. My problem is that it seems like we see her too much.
My wife has agreed to watch her a few days a week, Mondays and Tuesdays and some Fridays. She also offered to watch her on Friday nights or through the weekend if the parents want to go somewhere. Of course, my son and his wife (who are in their mid-20s) are quite pleased with this arrangement, and often bring their daughter over to our house on Friday night and then pick her up on Saturday afternoon. Despite my opinion that this is happening too frequently, my wife still agrees to watch her anytime they ask.
All of a sudden, I’m the bad grandpa. The fact is that I love my granddaughter, but I just don’t want to raise her. We raised our own children and now this should be “our time” to enjoy. The only one who somewhat understands is my daughter; she thinks that my son and his wife need to understand that there are no “days off” from being a parent.
At this point it seems like everyone is getting their way but me: my wife gets to dote on her granddaughter, my son gets free babysitting and our granddaughter is getting spoiled by grandma. I only wish they would understand my point of view and respect some of our free time. Any suggestions?
– Off-Duty Grandpa
Suzanne: It doesn’t sound to me like you are a bad grandpa, just one with a life. So go ahead. Carry on. With your life that is. Buy a boat, a motorcycle, an old car to restore, anything to keep you busy while your wife busies herself with full-time grandparenting. It sounds like you enjoy quality time with your granddaughter, but nothing says that you have to confine yourself to the house for every babysitting engagement.
Even if grandma can handle the childcare duties on her own, your absence could be the wake-up call she needs to realize that it’s probably not healthy for anyone that she has become a crutch of sorts. Of course she might think you are being spiteful at first, by making yourself unavailable. But if you take a sincere approach to scheduling in your own hobby time and also creating some “can’t miss” activities that include your wife, she might be inclined to curb the babysitting – to some degree at least.
Start with a scheduled brunch with friends on a Saturday morning, or a class that you both would enjoy. Your son and daughter-in-law shouldn’t be the only ones having fun on the town. Once your calendar starts filling up, it should become clear to everyone involved that babysitting should not be taken for granted. And if she sees no reason not to continue the “always at your service” routine she has now with your son’s family, you should go on these “dates” anyway. It might just take her friends to start asking why she’s never around to drive the point home.
And don’t underestimate the opportunity to speak with your son about this situation (even if you already have). Tell him that his mother would never say no to helping out with Leila even if they asked her to let them know when she’s had enough. Instead, maybe they should take it upon themselves to consider limiting the weekend visits to once a month.
Your wife will probably need some encouragement once she comes around, so remind her that grandmas have a knack for making up for lost time whether they see a grandchild once a year or every other day.
Good luck and let us know how it works out!
Amanda: This is one of those times where Suzanne and I are in full agreement. You won’t be able to talk your wife into seeing your point of view, so stop trying to. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t take (subtle) action.
I like the idea of scheduling activities in advance — months if you have to — for you and your wife to do together. If she balks and says she doesn’t want to go in case your son and his wife need you to watch Leila, be pleasant and continue on with your plans.
My one caution would be to not go overboard with your social calendar — be sure to continue to spend time with your granddaughter when she is at your home (or you are at hers) for babysitting. It’s nice that you are in a position to help out your son and daughter-in-law, whether your granddaughter realizes what is happening or not. Some of my best memories of childhood are the times I spent at my grandparents house. I didn’t know then (and I don’t know now) if I was there because I was being babysat or simply just because. I just remember being loved — I was so happy to be with them and they with me. That’s the takeaway here. Not every grandparent has the opportunity to spend so much one-on-one time with their grandchildren, view it as the blessing that it is. I promise in the future, Leila will.
Your turn readers. What should “Off-Duty Grandpa” do? And if you have a sticky situation that needs a double dose of advice, remember we’re always here to help at firstname.lastname@example.org.