Emotional Health · Family & Friends

Happy Mother’s Day: Grandparents’ 911. . . Continued

These days, all that is turned on its ear. Not only is grandma still working, both Mom and Dad are likely to be working full time and then some and still they can’t quite make ends meet. Though some can afford weekday child care, extra money for evening help is often not available. Grandparents begin to look like the parents’ only ticket to rest or recreation.

Many households also seem to be calling upon grandparents to do regular child care so the parents can work. The grandparents are finding themselves stuck in a position they were in 30 years ago but with no authority and much less energy. Their kids feel trapped in a situation that is hard to manage and finding themselves turning to the people who have always been there to help: their parents.

In this scenario, we grandparents are finding that the sacrifices we have already made for our children have not paid off, or at least not enough. Instead of being launched as fully independent people who can take care of themselves, many of our children cannot give their children what they need without our help. The result is that everyone feels shortchanged and angry.

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It is no wonder that candidates on both sides of the political spectrum are making strides with arguments that call for a whole “new order” in our country. Things are not working out as promised, people are saying. What many of our readers are writing to us is that this phase of life, including becoming grandparents, which was supposed to be part of their “golden years,” is not working out that way. A wrenching article in this month’s Atlantic by film critic and biographer Neal Gabler details the ways in which, despite his career as a successful writer, he has not been able to achieve financial stability. Called “The Secret Shame of the Middle Class Americans,” Gabler offers a detailed and honest account of how some of his decisions were ill-timed or poorly thought out. He, like most of us, thought he was on track to a pleasant middle-class life. But somehow the tracks have shifted.

How can the families of these people who love and care for one another be rescued from this conflict? We grandparents need to understand the special pressures our children are under, which in many cases are different and/or worse than we had to face. Our children have to understand the position that their parents are taking, too. It is natural for children, even as adults, to continue seeing their parents as being there for them in a crisis and if we’ve done a good job, then they know that we would do anything for them. But they also need to work hard to see that while what we give may be freely and lovingly offered, it represents a sacrifice, sometimes a big one, for us.

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Rather than be entitled, the children of our readers need to work harder at being grateful for their parents’ help. Being acknowledged and thanked properly can go a long way, even in a difficult situation, and if you are not getting this from your children, please do let them know. People under stress often are very self-centered and they forget that others have needs and problems, too. Sometimes they need to be reminded to stay aware of the impact of what they are asking of you. While of course you want to be with your grandchildren and, of course, you want to help your children out, you cannot let them dictate the terms and be spoiled or demanding. You wouldn’t allow it when they were 2 years old, and you shouldn’t allow it now.

Meanwhile, we should all be acknowledged on Mother’s Day for a job that so often goes without that. We don’t do it for the rewards, and never have. But it’s nice to be thanked.


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  • Mickey May 5, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I’ll never be a ‘grandmother’. I am a grand (?) aunt. Three wonderful young girls careening through their lives with their beleaguered young mom at the helm. Sigh. My niece lives closer to me than she ever has (a two minute drive) and I still don’t see her or the girls very much. Another sigh. Thank you, Andrea. Great comment. And Fiona, too! Yes, aren’t they so darling!? I think of the extended families of another century when villages raised their children. What’s corporate America steering us toward now? Final sigh.

  • Fiona May 5, 2016 at 10:32 am

    They are delicious. So cute. Love their little faces. And those cheeks! Thanks for this.

  • Andrea May 5, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Thanks Cecilia for your very relevant and smart article on being a grandparent. What I found humorous was becoming acquainted with the “new”rules of parenting. REALLY??? at 9 months my grandson had a “sleep consultant” (for a substantial $fee)!and his parents were “taught” how to get him on a sleep schedule – darkened shades, white noise machine and all.REALLY?? What I quickly learned a s a new grandma were 2 things never to say regarding the baby
    1) do you know what I think?
    2) do you know what I did ?
    As long as that baby is safe ,healthy and happy my response to the new parents( particularly my daughter in law) will be “oh darling that’s wonderful”. It seems to be the right approach – I am asked to visit and babysit often and love every minute!! Happy Mother’s Day to all.