We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: The Fine Line Between Grandma and (Live-In) Nanny

Grandparents babysitting

When Grandma babysits 24/7, what should Grandpa do? ©Jenny Erickson@stock.xchng

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.

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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 advice@wearebothright.com.

Why Yes, I am a Terrible Person

weblux/stock.xchng

This place looks pretty quiet and remote, but I bet the second I sit down my kids find me. ©weblux/stock.xchng

This is how desperate I am for some alone time. (And please, don’t take offense, I’m at my wit’s end here.)

Today, my husband will be attending the wake of a colleague’s father. A solemn occasion honoring and remembering a good man that I have never met (I was introduced to my husband’s fellow worker once). It will be a room filled with this man’s family and friends, all mourning his death and celebrating his life. And what am I doing besides writing out a sympathy card?

I’m begging my husband to let me go with him. Begging. Think the last piece of chocolate cheesecake begging.

“We’ll get dressed up!” I told him as I plead my case yesterday afternoon while our children zoomed around our house, high on an energy that can only come from a Friday that leads into a week off from school. “We’ll have an hour-long car ride alone together — we can finish our sentences without being interrupted! Maybe we can grab a bite to eat after!”

My husband raised his left eyebrow at me and gave me a look of semi-disbelief. “Are you trying to turn the wake of a man into date night?”

At that moment, my 9-year-old daughter ran through the kitchen with her 2-year-old brother on her back, both of them shrieking at the top of their lungs, their 11-year-old brother  (brandishing a light saber, naturally), not far behind.

“Please,” I implored. “Think about how quiet it will be.”

And that my friends, is what it has come down to.

I had lunch with an old friend and colleague recently who relayed  a story about her younger sister. When her sister’s children were small — probably around the age of my brood — she used to “joke” that even going to the dentist and getting a root canal was enjoyable, because it meant she had a moment’s peace.

Show of hands, how many of you are nodding your heads and saying to yourself, “Well, that sounds reasonable.”?

I thought so.

I love my children. More than anything else in the world. I never thought my capacity to love and care about someone else (and that’s three someone elses) could be so vast and deep. When they are happy, I’m ecstatic. When they are sad, I’m inconsolable. I have never laughed as hard as I do when one of my children is doing something silly. They keep me active and awake and engaged.  My smile is bigger because of them.  They are my light and my life and I’m a better person for them.

But they are loud. Oh, so very loud. And they like to interrupt a lot. And spill things. Also, yell. And I never get to watch my shows. (Seriously, I’m like four episodes back on Revenge.)

In any case, I’ve come to my senses and restored my sensitive gene. I will not be attending that wake. But I do go to the gym a few times a week. And if you knew me from days of yore, you’d know that my sudden interest in exercise is less about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and more about something else. (Hint: no one asks me to put the straw in their juice box while I’m on the treadmill.)

Still, even while I’m rolling my eyes and breaking out the earplugs when the herd of oxen I live with comes trampling through the living room, I tell myself that it won’t be like this forever. In fact, it won’t be like this for very long at all. And while quiet sounds like heaven right now, I bet ten years from now it will be deafening.

OK, let me have it. I’m an insensitive clod. But ‘fess up. What measures have you gone to to secure a moment for yourself?

This One’s Dedicated to All the Mom-Heroes Out There

They can leap over Legos, scale playground fences and see with eyes in the back of their heads. Who is your favorite superhero mom? © Mattel DC Universe

Ask a child who their favorite super hero is, and you’re likely to get back a response like Superman, Batgirl, Iron Man or Wonder Woman (my personal fav).

Sure, there’s something to be said for having a web at your fingertips that will let you swing from one building to the next on a moment’s notice — just as long as it’s not your four-year-old trying to get from the garage to the patio overhang.  And who hasn’t wished for the ability to don a cape and fly somewhere in a pinch, like when you’re late for the school bus again? (I know I could have used that last week).

But even without these extraordinary powers, mothers everywhere take on the role of superhero everyday. Who else could get by with two hours sleep and still have an endless supply of love to give all day long? Come up with balanced meals for a three-year-old on the run?

Put just as much emphasis on serving our country as serving their families? Ditch temptations of social networking in favor of playing Candyland. Engage an entire extended family in learning sign language to keep up with a hearing-impaired preschooler?

Round up enough dandelions to help a child create a bouquet, in spite of allergies? Get through the challenging teenage years and live to tell about it? And take joy in every moment, knowing that the minds and hearts of our children are the most powerful powers of all.

In honor of Mother’s Day, Amanda and I give all of you superhero moms a special salute. Enjoy the day!

Our Two Cents: How Far Should This Mom Go to “Save” a Friend?

©mummau55/stock.xchng

Can a mom and child ever spend too much time together? ©mummau55/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne: 

My dear, dear friend “Jennifer” and I have babies who were born seven months apart. How excited we both are to have children who will grow up together! 

Jennifer’s son “John” is a sweet boy with what I perceive to be a bit of an issue: He is 14 months old and won’t sleep through the night. You read that correctly…WON’T sleep through the night. 

Now, Jennifer is still breastfeeding him but John is also eating solid foods as well. Not to say that breastfeeding is causing the sleep interruption, but can it be part of the issue? Jennifer won’t try the ‘cry it out’ method and on average, John is up every 3 to 4 hours every night. 

I mean, I would go mental. I have wanted to gently broach the subject but I don’t want to seem like a know it all. 

And also, is it normal for moms not want to hang out without the kids? We haven’t been out to lunch alone since the babies were born. She “can’t” leave him. I feel like the worst Mom sometimes because I like to go out with my lady friends once in awhile. Anyway, that’s my issue and any feedback would be greatly appreciated. 

Signed,
A Concerned Friend
 

Suzanne: 

I could see where you would be concerned! Just the thought of not sleeping for longer than four hours for fourteen months straight makes me tired. And to envision your good friend suffering in silence, having been there yourself for however short a period of time, makes you want to jump through her bedroom window and save her.

But before you pull out your old Wonder Woman costume, maybe you could casually bring up the subject in conversation, without making your friend feel self-conscious about something she may or may not perceive as a problem herself.

Next time you talk, you might say in passing that your little one continues to sleep through the night and *fingers crossed* you hope it’s not just a phase. When she gives you the update on John (presuming they’re still in the same boat) ask in response whether her pediatrician has offered any advice as to whether she should try to stretch his feedings further apart. If she appears to not be looking for a “solution” you should just leave it at that — and maybe commend her for being stronger than you would be with so little sleep.

As for her not wanting to leave baby behind for a little girls-only time, you will just have to wait her out on that one. All moms find their comfort zone at different points in their child’s development. Some are ready to go immediately, knowing that baby is in good hands with daddy or grandma for an hour or two, while others might never leave their child’s sight until the drive to college.

For me, justifying time spent alone with friends took a few years and that was a direct result of my self-imposed guilt. I thought I was shortchanging my babies while I was at work, so I wanted to give them all of my free time otherwise. But now — well, I totally see the value in just hanging with friends for an hour or two and recharging in a way that ultimately makes me a more patient and well-rounded mom. Your friend should come around too — maybe after she starts getting some sleep! 

Amanda: 

I could be way off base here, but it sounds to me like Jennifer is practicing attachment parenting, whether she’s made the conscious decision to do so or not. Now this is just a guess based on what you are saying and from my own experiences as someone who did it as well (and sort of stumbled into the method).

If she is attachment parenting, I think everything you describe is actually pretty normal. The night waking, the extended breastfeeding, even the not wanting to leave the baby at all. I actually went through all of that myself — except for the extended breastfeeding part, which I had to stop at 13 months with S. because of my surgery. And while my husband T. and I did let our babies “cry it out,” at bedtime, if they woke in the middle of the night to nurse, I did let them and then they co-slept with us for the remainder of the evening.

Crazy? Perhaps. But it was the most natural thing for me, and I suspect, your friend. I’ve always felt that attachment parenting is inherent. Not to get all new-agey on you, but you don’t choose to attachment parent, it comes from inside of you.

And I promise, it’s no reflection on you if she doesn’t want to hang out. It’s just part of the attachment parenting style. Not that they dictate that, but it’s more like, moms who practice attachment parenting tend to not want to be separated from their babies. I knew that leaving the baby was fine and good to do, but it was just really hard for me emotionally. I have no way to explain it other than I just didn’t want to be away from them. I didn’t judge others that could leave their babies, I just couldn’t. Not for a while.

And that’s the thing about attachment parenting, you either get it and love it and do it, or you don’t do it and you think those who do are a bit looney. Which is fine!

If you miss your friend (and it sounds like you do) for now, maybe it’s best to schedule outings that incorporate all four of you — trips to the playground, walks, even a quick meal or coffee at a family-friendly place. Be supportive and patient — the good friend that you’ve been all along.

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What do you think? Does Concerned Friend have cause to be concerned? Should she talk to Jennifer or leave it alone? And if you are looking for a second (and third) opinion, ask us! Send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

Playgroups Give Mommy a Social Life Too!

I should say up front that I used to think that playgroups were kind of lame. Unnecessary and formal, I rolled my eyes at the minivan suburban-ness that they seemed to represent.

And then I joined one without even realizing it, and now I don’t know what I would do without this amazing group of women who I’m so glad are my friends.

(Oh, and my daughter likes it too!)

(Also, I now drive a minivan, but that’s a post for another day.)

It was started about four years ago by a group of moms from my daughter A.’s preschool. You know how it is — day in and day out you are standing in line with the same people, exchanging smiles and pleasantries while you wait for your children to be done with school. Finally one day, one of the moms took the initiative and posted a sign that invited all the parents and caregivers and children in the class to meet at a local fast food restaurant that also had an indoor playground.

There was a lot of, “Are you going to go?” “I’m not sure if I want to go,” chatter amongst those in the group who were friendlier with one another, but wouldn’t you know it, on the designated afternoon over a dozen kids and their moms (and one or two dads and grandmas if I’m remembering right) showed up to eat and play and have a good time.

We haven’t looked back. Not only did the kids get along amazingly but so did the moms. And now, after a few informal get-togethers after that first time at McDonald’s, we wound up today as a group of eleven friends (moms to ten girls and one boy) who have grown to depend and count on one another for stuff little and big. And what’s great is, it’s not just the moms and daughters, but the dads and siblings too.

We’ve had a few additions over the years with other parents that some of us have “invited in” (and amazingly, no subtractions), but for the most part we’ve remained a solid core (we all shudder at the word “clique” although honestly, that’s probably what we are).

© hortongrou/svilen001/stock.xchng

© hortongrou/svilen001/stock.xchng

In the beginning the aim was simple — a regular playgroup for the kids. We’d meet once a week, either at someone’s home or if the weather was nice, a local park or beach. Everyone brought something to eat to share, but the rule was you weren’t allowed to go to the store to buy something. We did our best to be a “cheap” “no pressure” group so your contribution to the meal had to be from whatever was in your pantry. Which made for some interesting lunches, but hey — no one ever complained.

Playgroup soon morphed, and we now also have a “book club” (read: the not read the book, wine and snacks club) for the mommies and a Girl Scout troop for the girls (sorry Kenny!). We babysit one another’s children and go on vacation (and mommy weekends) with our families. We stand together when someone is having a crisis and celebrate through the good stuff. We throw birthday parties and baby showers and march in parades. We’ve seen each other at our best and our worst and yet we still marvel at how amazingly lucky we all are to have found each other. Sure, there have been differences, but in the end it always works out.

About two years ago, when my daughter started kindergarten, privately I wondered if we would last. Despite living in close proximity to one another, the majority of the girls would attend school in one school district while three (and count my daughter in this minority) of the children were in another. And with all the girls in second grade, regular playgroup meetings are a (sad) thing of the past. At such a young age, how could these friendships sustain?

As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Sure, A. doesn’t see all the girls on the playground every day, but when she does — Brownie meetings and birthday parties and playdates — it’s like they are all four years old once again, happily squealing and hugging one another like sisters.

My youngest son S., will turn 18 months old next week. I’m looking forward to finding a playgroup that suits us — a few neighbors and friends with young children have actually been discussing forming one. It’s something I’m excited about.

But for the record, if this playgroup also ends up having a book club, I’m going to have to insist that everyone read the book (although we can also serve wine and snacks).