fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices in many articles over the years.

 

Dr. Ford,

I hope that you are going to do another post on this topic for Women’s Voices for Change, in response to all of the comments you received to this post. Having struggled mightily to parent our children while both working outside our home, and having managed that in part because of good fortune, my husband I used to wonder how other parents working full-time outside the home did it, given the expensiveness and scarcity of verifiably-good child care. These comments provide what may be a key part of the current answer to that question: by prevailing upon their parent/s to provide free child care for their children during at least a substantial amount of the parent’s work time. So many of these comments reveal an ominous combination of child entitlement, selfishness and bullying and parental shame, guilt and enabling leading to and sustaining the child care arrangements they discuss. How prevalent is this sad problem in the U.S.?

Leslie

 

Dear Leslie,

Based on the comments we have received, it seems that the problems you are referring to are very prevalent indeed. No issue has received as many questions or comments as this one at Women’s Voices For Change.

Clearly there is a lot of pain surrounding this issue, and women are definitely raising their voices about it.

The majority of those who have written feel, like you, that they are being either exploited or underappreciated. In a typical situation involving these feelings, my advice would be to end the relationship if it does not improve. What is unique about the grandparent dilemma is that we feel especially bonded to our grandchildren and do not want to literally “throw the baby out” with the bathwater. Worse, our children, in the conflicts we have with them about issues relating to their own children, hold all the power. Knowing this (either explicitly or implicitly), they have a lot of room to hurt, exploit or otherwise take advantage of their own parents.

How did grandparenting, which is supposed to be one of life’s greatest joys and rewards in our “golden years,” become such a flashpoint of resentment and anger? Some of the roots are in the socioeconomic changes that have occurred in the past 40-50 years. My generation of women, who came of age in the late 1960s or early ’70s, was empowered by the idea that we could work as well as be parents. Some of us chose that, while some chose to forgo parenthood in larger numbers than ever before. Those of us who did work and raise families were pioneers of sorts, finding ways to work out child care arrangements relying on grandparents or other relatives, daycare or nannies. Some couples even switched off roles with the fathers staying home while the mothers worked, an unheard of and unimaginable idea in their parents’ day.

The grandmothers who pitched in were less likely than today to have been at the end of a long, demanding career, and much less likely to be still working even if they had in the past. They came to their new role as grandparents often after a period of “empty nesting” and relative relaxation. Fewer had been single parents as well, like many of our readers, who are exhausted after years of raising and supporting their children single-handedly.

They were also more likely to be financially comfortable, if not secure. Some of our grandparents have written that even the costs to them of providing “free babysitting,” like parking expenses, are a burden, but their children resent being asked to be reimbursed for them.

Both generations are being squeezed by the same decline in the average family’s ability to make ends meet. The baby boomer generation’s working mothers often did so out of “choice,” and their income was either “extra” or at least enough to cover child-care costs. When we asked our parents to babysit, it was often a special occasion like a trip out of town for which we wanted the added protection and comfort of leaving the kids with relatives. It was a special treat for both, and the “regular” child-care arrangements (e.g. daytime babysitter) were often left in place.

Things are different now, all around. Grandparents are still working, often by necessity not choice. If retired, it is sometimes because their health has forced them to do so, as many of our readers have indicated. Women’s liberation was achieved with high costs, and true parity has still not been achieved either in the workplace or at home. Our readers repeatedly say they are exhausted from having been required to do two full-time jobs for all these years.

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  • Cecilia Ford September 6, 2016 at 8:19 am

    Thank you for your comments.
    Leslie, yours is a good addition to what I said.

    Ms. Quinton: in-law relationships can be so tricky. I will work on a future post about your question, which is of concern to a lot of people.

    Reply
  • Maggie Quinton September 2, 2016 at 11:59 am

    What if the mother is your daughter in law and it isn’t the best relationship. Any suggestions on how to navigate? Thank you

    Reply
  • Leslie in Oregon September 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Thank you for further addressing the excruciating grandparenting conundrum that so many of your commenters described. Although I have not experienced that situation either as a parent or a grandparent, my heart goes out to those in the thick of one. My husband and I are of your generation, and both of us have worked outside of the home throughout our adult lives, for both economic and personal fulfillment reasons. During the years our children lived with us, we each worked half-time when they were infants and 3/4-time from the time each was 5-6 months old. (We were fortunate to have those options, which we had to push hard for.) Although good child care for our children was too expensive for us, we never considered relying upon our parents for it. Neither grandfather had retired, one set of grandparents lived 1800 miles away, and the other grandmother, my mother, had gently but firmly, when I was pregnant with our first child, made clear that she would not be the, or a, child care provider for her grandchildren. As a result, my husband and I set up a system where she could spend time with her pre-school grandchild whenever she wished, but she would not ever be her child care provider. My mother enjoyed our first child very much, often picking her up at child care and spending a couple of hours with her in the late afternoon. Sadly, my mother died when that child was 4 years, and our youngest a few months, old. My husband and I are still paying off the debt we first started accruing when we had to go over-budget to pay for good child care, but it was well worth it! We are not yet grandparents. Even though neither of our children lives within 1000 miles of us now, we hope to one day have an arrangement for spending time with their children similar to the one my mother had with us. Thank you for this elucidating post.

    Reply