Dear Newsweek, My parents, and my partner’s parents, rarely ever babysit our children. I believe by doing this they are denying themselves a good relationship with the children, but also denying us a much-needed break to work on our own relationship, and not be so focused around our children 100 percent of the time.
We used to share a duplex home with my mother and stepfather. We owned a restaurant/bar and the days were long and the nights even longer sometimes. My mom was okay looking after my daughter once she was asleep and all the chores were done, and there were occasional emergencies including when someone tried to rob our business. I had another child with my partner and four months later we were in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our restaurant was forced to close, and shortly afterwards I was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
My parents, who lived downstairs, decided it was more fun to drink and have parties than help us with our children while I was struggling with cancer. At one point, my partner went round to their house and begged them to help and they laughed at him.
If I mention that my partner and I are going away just the two of us, my mother very quickly states that she will not be babysitting. My partner’s parents own properties in three different states and spend most of their time in Florida, away from their only grandkids.
They’re just not making an effort, and my partner and I are left stressing over the relationship with them, not having time for each other, and grandparents that only care about seeing their grandkids on video calls or at the holidays. I think lots of grandparents have this mentality of “I already raised mine,” but that’s not how a lot of us parents feel. We all share the same blood so why don’t some grandparents care about spending time with their grandchildren or contributing to the humans they will become?
I don’t know what to tell my children when they ask why their grandparents do not spend more time with them. I don’t know what to say to the grandparents when I want to skip holidays because why should I haul my family all around the country, or host them when every other day of the year they don’t even care to visit the kids? How do I explain to the grandparents every single day they are missing an opportunity for these kids to know who they are? That they are the role models for what family should look like in how they participate in each other’s life? How do I make sure my children do not grow up to be those kinds of grandparents but still have healthy boundaries?
Miss A, Unknown
You Cannot Control Your Parents, But You Can Be Better Grandparents When The Time Comes
Sherry Cormier is a licensed psychologist and certified bereavement trauma specialist and a former professor from the University of Tennessee and West Virginia University. She is the author of Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness after Loss and Grief.
Hello Miss A,
Thank you for submitting this issue! I am very sorry to hear about the struggles you had during the pandemic with respect to your restaurant closing and your lymphoma diagnosis. Those are such stressful events.
I know as adults we always have preferences about how our parents should behave as grandparents, whether it is spending more time with our children or giving financial support, etc. And regardless of the issue, often we don’t agree with the choices our parents make. We can’t make our parents conform to our expectations because they have made decisions about how to live their lives. Just as you have. And it sounds like they have been very clear with you about what they can and cannot do with your children.
My suggestion is to focus more on your limits and expectations and desires. Sit down with your partner and your children and figure out when you do and do not want to spend time with the grandparents and communicate these limits to them. You may decide that you only spend the holidays with them every other year and do something else the other year. And remember you don’t have to explain anything to your parents other than this is what you all have figured out for your family moving forward.
Also, I would talk with your partner about ways to get your parenting needs met by exploring other options that do not rely on grandparents. Figure out ways to go away as a couple or go on a date or get help looking after the children by finding someone reliable you can trade with or can hire.
Although you cannot control your parents, just remember that when you and your partner become grandparents, you can choose to be different kinds of grandparents and offer your own grandkids the kind of support and time you feel they so deserve. I wish you well.
Move On and Create The Life You Really Want
Ruth Freeman is a psychotherapist and founder of parenting support organization Peace At Home Parenting Solutions.
One of the greatest stressors in life is trying to change other people. It is a complete illusion and causes all kinds of suffering, especially in families. It’s certainly important to let folks know how their behavior impacts us, and this is best done with a clear, non-blameful I-statement. In this case, it might go something like, “We are deeply disappointed that you choose not to spend more time with your grandkids. It would mean a lot to them and we would be grateful for the break. We hope you’ll reconsider and try to fit them into your schedule more often.”
You are absolutely correct that children benefit enormously from regular time with grandparents and that grandparents themselves benefit as well. There is actually some evidence that grandparents who care for grandchildren on a regular basis (not full time) tend to live longer and this arrangement, according to one study, can reduce risk of depression in both groups. In addition, grandparents can influence grandchildren very positively. So your feelings of loss about your children’s grandparents disinterest is absolutely warranted. However, if you continue to focus on this loss, it will likely cause both you and your children to continue to suffer.
If the kids ask about their grandparents’ behavior, you could show compassion by simply reflecting their emotions: “Sounds like you are really sad that your grandparents don’t visit more often.” You can also guide them to communicate with their grandparents directly and ask the very questions they are asking you. You could invite them to call, email or write a letter to their grandparents and express their concerns directly.
And finally,many people create a “family of choice” when biological families don’t function in supportive ways. There may be neighbors or friends that take an interest in their kids and you may want to develop those relationships. Joining with other families can also ease the disappointment of limited connections with one’s own family and sharing childcare can be part of that. You might want to consider joining a neighborhood community or school group. Most importantly you will be able to support your children better if you can accept the nature of your kids’ grandparents and move on to create the life you really want for them, yourself and your partner.
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