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Dear Dr. Batya,
I love my grandchildren dearly so please don't get me wrong. I feel a bit as if I am being taken advantage of as my children think I am always available at the drop of a hat to babysit. I think I'd like a life also. Can you help me break this to them and still maintain a relationship?
- N.E., Netanya
Your problem is not a unique one and part of the problem is finding the right balance. You seem available and your children are desperate to have the best care available, which is, for better or for worse, you. That said, you finally have your children out of the house and have some free time to take some classes, be with your partner, relax and perhaps even travel.
I'm sure you love being with your grandchildren, but it sounds as if you might be being taken advantage of. After all, you have paid your dues and you have to decide how much time you'd like to put into helping out with the kids. If you feel that your children - and you may have a few of them all wanting a piece of you - are taking advantage of your good nature, you do have to say something because sitting on it will only lead to your being inappropriately angry perhaps at a later time.
Here are a few thoughts:
* Sit down and talk with your children and let them know that you are happy to help out and let them know just how often and in what ways you are prepared to help. Do you mind, for instance, if they call you when they have to work and their child is sick? Would you like to be looking after them two prearranged days a week and an evening? If you don't want to have a fixed day and time, do you want advance notice or can they just pop in and drop off the kids? Keep lines of communication open and everyone will benefit. Be open in the discussion and see if you can reach a plan that works for everyone.
* Let your children know what some of your interests are and whether you want to be able to feel free to pursue them when it works for you and with your schedule. This may mean that they will have to be flexible as well. What works for you one year or semester may not work the following year, or you may take classes that fit into your children's schedule if you want to help out. Remember to gently let your children know if you have other interests and responsibilities that may sometime interfere with your ability to provide consistent childcare arrangements.
* If you have several children or grandchildren wanting your time, have you thought of ways to make it work well for all concerned and yet not totally tire yourself out?
* Don't forget that you've most likely been chosen because you are patient, available, kind and you know how to have fun. You too can benefit from this wonderful relationship. Your grandchildren may be able to open up the world of computers to you. They have a vast array of knowledge, and teaching you can be a big boost to their self esteem. You may also want to invest in a digital camera so that you and your grandchildren can have a blast doing photo shoots. Finally, while it may cost you extra to take them along, they may be able to help you get groceries and do some other errands. It will be good for their math and commerce skills and great for you if they can help shop, carry and put things away. Don't forget to stop and have ice cream along the way though because you can spoil them in ways their parents won't.
* Make sure drop off and pick up times are clearly established ahead of time. You may not feel very generous in the future if you had to cancel plans because your daughter didn't show up to claim her children because she didn't know that you had something that you wanted to do.
* Remember, you are not as young as you used to be, so you may tire more easily, like to rest in the afternoon or simply have some appointments that need attending to. If you are not physically up to taking care of the grandchildren in a way that you'd like to be, make sure that your children understand what is going on. What has worked well in the past may no longer be working well.
Most problems are not insurmountable as long as you are able to communicate kindly and openly about how you feel and are aware of what your specific needs are. Your relationship with your grandchildren is one for everyone to treasure. You offer insight and an excellent historical resource, whether it be to tell stories or to bake an old favorite recipe together. You most likely have more time and patience than their parents, so can be there to play games, attend concerts or even share a special holiday together. You can play such a vital role in their life. It would be nice if you could enjoy every minute of it.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.
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