I’m not a gooey, super-affectionate type. I’m into competence and capability and problem solving. I have had to teach myself to be less Dr. Spock (as my children used to refer to me) and more Mr. Rogers, so to speak. I have a profession, and while I’ve practiced less than full-time since becoming a mother–it still keeps me pretty busy.
So when my kids started having their own kids and the demands on grandma started coming in, it wasn’t easy. Can I pick up from school? Something’s come up. Can I come to the house? The babysitter has to leave, mum is held up. Can I do this? Can I go there? I’m the Go-To Granny.
What to do? I do not want to be the grandma who is limping around with a toddler in tow, picking kids up from school and bringing them home, giving them dinner and bathing them so that they’re in their jim-jams all nice and clean for Mummy to come and pick up. Every day. No thank you.
No matter how adorable my grandchildren are, I have done my time in Mummyland, and I am all Mummied-out. My seventh and last child was already rather sloppily mothered because I was kind of over it, and that was over 20 years ago.
I recently reflected on how much help I got from my mother when I had young children–sadly, almost none. She died when my eldest (twins) were 4 years old, and she had been sick for some time before then. And as for help from my mother-in-law? Zero. She had three daughters of her own who also were having kids, and I was not on her list. My husband was working long hours, so I had paid help or I had no help, but I was always strong and capable, and I got the job done.
And I won’t go back there.
But. I want to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives. And so, the time has come to lay down some ground rules:
1. I will do anything in an emergency. I have taken kids to the emergency room when their mum is stuck with babies and dad is stuck in traffic. That’s life, stuff happens, and I will be there if at all possible.
2. I will do pickups from school, or look after toddlers, but NOT every day. And not so that mummy can go to Pilates. And I need at least three days notice, so I can clear my diary. (Emergencies excluded, refer to #1.)
3. I will not be used as a regular babysitter, or a nighttime babysitter, so mum and dad can go out. Get a high school kid. Make your own arrangements. I also like to go out for dinner, you know.
4. I respect a mum who is studying or working more than one who is a SAHM, so I will be more generous with bending the rules when the pressure is on with work deadlines or exams, etc. Hate me if you want, but that’s how I feel.
5. I will do things with the children that I am good at and enjoy doing. I do not enjoy and neither am I good at taking kids to parks and playing boisterous ball games and chasey. I am not one of these youthful, sprightly types. Fortunately, I am good at cooking so I will do pizza night once a week for all the families, and I will do Sunday brunch for anyone who comes, and Shabbat meals. I will even drop off dinners if mum is under the weather. I will also take every opportunity to read to the kids; it was my favorite thing to do with my own kids and it still is.
6. I will look after the kids, including having them move in and stay for days or weeks, if one or both parents have to go overseas for family reasons. That’s part of having daughters and sons-in-law from America. There are weddings and other simchas (joyous occasions), and there are illnesses and funerals, and I will hold down the fort, and have done so many times.
7. When we go on family vacations, I am not there to look after the kids while mummy and daddy have pina coladas on the beach. Do your research and find a local sitter.
I wonder how many parents of young kids take advantage of their own parents. And I wonder how many grandparents accept it, because they feel guilty or otherwise manipulated.
Nothing is more important than family, and the happy chaos of family get-togethers is a pleasure. But please, respect the grandparent-grandchild bond. My late mother used to joke that she had a sign near the front door for when grandchildren came to visit. On one side was written Baruch HaBah (literally: Blessed is the one who arrives; also used as way to say “welcome”). And when they left, she would flip the sign to the other side, which read Baruch HaShem (Thank God).
I should get one of those signs.