Taking Advantage of the Grandparents

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According to a recent Census Bureau statistic, there are approximately 8 million children in the United States that are living in the same home as their grandparents. This is an increase of 78% since data compiled in the 1970’s. In fact, today – due to the economy and other reasons such as teenage pregnancy, parental drug abuse, and neglect, it is becoming extremely common for grandparents to be single handedly raising, providing childcare for and caring financially for their grandchildren. While many of the situations in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren as the influential parental body are due to negative sociological issues on part of the parents – there are droves of other grandparents who are constantly in place as the go-to, always on call babysitter for their grandchildren.

But when does asking the grandparents to baby sit, to fill in, to pay for childcare, to pick the kids up from school and chauffeur them to ball practice become a ‘practice in disrespect?’ Are you taking advantage of the grandparents?

In July 2010, CBS news ran a segment entitled, “When Granny Becomes Nanny.” In this report, a survey of 10,000 grandparents revealed that 61% of them take care of their grandchildren on a regular basis. This goes above and beyond hosting sleepovers, visiting the kids on the weekends, sharing special venues and spending time together into a lifestyle where the grandparents become responsible for the day-to-day care of the grandchildren.

The report also investigated how the down turning economic environment has caused a resurgence of grandparents as generalized caretakers for their grandchildren. The adult kids are not just phoning them to ask if they can baby-sit once or twice a month – but are expecting them to watch the kiddos several days per week and on weekends. Togetherness in the family is extremely nice, and close family units are proven to raise healthier, better-adjusted children. But is it really fair to expect a grandparent to be a parent?

Grandparents have already filled their parental shoes by raising their own children. It seems that the circle of life should allow them to sit back and enjoy their grandchildren, spoiling them and spending time with them out of sheer pleasure rather than necessity. And while most grandparents don’t mind watching the grandkids for a weekend so mom and dad can have some time away – is it fair to expect them to do so on a continual basis?

Additionally, 92% of all grandparents say they gladly watch the children and don’t expect to be paid for their time or for the things that they provide monetarily for their grandchildren. (Such as food and gas). In fact, one common thread of the grandparents in this poll only wanted appreciation. And sadly, only a sheer 13% of the grandparents believed they were getting that.

Of course, the benefits of grandparents as part time caretakers are immense to the family. The childcare is better – the kids are in a place where they are loved and nurtured. And the parents are able to work outside of the home. Additionally, when your kids are with the grandparents you can escape away for a weekend without worrying about how they are being taken of, and if they are okay. The problem of course becomes a problem, when the grandparents are taken advantage of.

One way to avoid taking advantage of the grandparents is to truly see the value in the service they are providing for you. If they eventually begin to feel resentful that the adult children are being selfish and are not extending the grandparents certain levels of respect, then of course – the situation can turn into one that changes the landscape of your family. One therapist suggests asking the grandparents these questions before asking them to help out with the kids in any way.

  • Do they wish to be repaid for the gas, food, time – that they are spending on the grandchildren. Remember, you would pay a babysitter, and would reimburse a friend who is feeding your child a snack after school every day. Extending that same courtesy to your parents (if they wish) is important.
  • Ask the grandparents how much notice they would like to have of events etc. where you would like their assistance with the children. Nothing is worse than consistently calling ANYONE, but especially someone you love – an hour before you need them and expecting them to drop everything to help you out with your kids. Make a rule about planning grandparent childcare.

Additionally, when you are leaving the kids with the grandparents – you should consider leaving them with extra clothes, providing some snacks or goods, letting them know if the kids are sick or not feeling well and prepping the kids ahead of time. If the kids have issues with behavior, consider that it might just be too much considering your parents age and physical capabilities. And, if you leave them for overnight visits, or weekends – try not to put off all the driving and transporting of the kids off on the grandparents. In other words, remember that they are doing YOU a favor – and do your part to make it as easy as possible.

It is also important to consider the grandparents schedule. Sure, they would like nothing more in the world than spending time with their grandchildren. But it isn’t fair, or nice to simply always assume that they would rather watch the kids. Keep up with their plans, and be courteous to the things that they enjoy doing.

Additionally, consider the fact that the grandparents ARE NOT going to be honest about how they really feel about taking care of YOUR kids ALL THE TIME. You will most likely find out about their discontent and feelings of being taken advantage of when another family member (probably a grown sibling), who feels you take advantage of the parents blurts it out during a family meal. If your kids are constantly being babysat by Meemaw and Papaw, while your sister’s kids are not – you can bet it is going to cause some sort of familial hostility with other family members.

You also have to remember that the golden years of grand parenting are something that most people look forward to. Finally, they have children that they can dote on without constantly feeling that they have to parent and discipline. If your kids are with the grandparents so often that discipline is necessary on their part – you are prophetically ruining these golden years. The grandparents WANT to be grandparents, not parents to your children.

Taking advantage of the grandparents is a common problem. Because grandparents don’t speak up and say anything about it, doesn’t mean that they aren’t feeling like pawns in your game. The best solution is to handle the structure of your childcare needs, and your family as professionally as possible and allow the grandparents to remain just that, rather than long term, short order babysitters that bend to your every beck and call. Just because it might be easier, doesn’t always mean its right.

And whatever you do….say thank you – and let the grandparents know that they are appreciated!

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