If you’ve ever parked outside school waiting to pick up grandchildren, it will come as no surprise to find 70% of those doing the same are also in the 50 plus age-bracket. And in many cases it’s not just one, but two or three little people they’re buckling into the back seat. No wonder the grandchild-less have difficulty scheduling a coffee date with their contemporaries, finding a golfing partner, or convincing friends to commit to the cruise they’ve all been planning for the last ten years. Grandparents, it seems, are busy people – often much busier than they ever expected to be, and very often, not a little resentful of their new-found occupation as stand-in parents.
The situation sneaks up on grandparents before they’re even aware of it. In the exciting days of that first next-generation pregnancy, the birth can’t come around fast enough. Knitting done, nursery painted, the countdown to delivery is painstakingly slow. And then, suddenly, grandbaby arrives. Desperate though you are to have as much hands-on as possible, you keep a respectful distance from the new family, grateful for whatever role Mum and Dad decide they might want you to fill. After all, the last thing you want to do is appear pushy.
When that first babysitting night arrives, and you know the parents have decided to trust you on your own with the infant, it’s a heady experience. You switch off the phone, tell your friends you won’t be available, and give yourself over to the task. After that you’re on your way: pram-pushing in the park, doing the day-care drop off-off, grandparent-reading at the local library. In fact, you can’t get enough of it until … number two comes along.
This time round, ‘the little family’ has decided they need to ship out of their old home and into something roomier. Which means Mum is going to be heading back to work full-time just a few weeks after the birth. Oh, and they’ve decided to cut back on day-care hours for number one, too, as a double saving. But that’s ok, because you’ll be available for minding toddler and baby three days a week … won’t you?
Suddenly, the walls seem to be pressing in, and you have a feeling of claustrophobia that wasn’t there before. What about the musical you planned to edition for later in the year? And the Masters tennis tournament you promised you’d help co-ordinate? Your growing anxiety about your new grandparenting role only increases when you soon discover it’s not just time you’re lacking, it’s energy! You may only be child-minding 3 days a week but when those days begin at seven and don’t end until six, you need the rest of the week to recover!
If you want to enjoy your grandparent role rather than come to resent it, it pays to set boundaries early on, beginning with baby number one. Be available, but on your terms. Be helpful, but not when it leaves no time for catching up with friends and enjoying your own interests. Be wary of tying yourself down to routines child-minding or you’ll find yourself unable to say ‘yes’ to spontaneous invitations from friends. Be prepared to go the extra mile (such as having a grandchild overnight now and again) but make it an exception rather than the rule. That way, you’ll be appreciated rather than being taken for granted.
Grandparenting is supposed to be fun, not a chore. Next time your son or daughter announces they’re expecting a child, mark the due date in your diary – along with all your other enjoyable commitments!