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Dilemma: I don't want to have to look after my grandchild

Katharine Whitehorn / 05 February 2016

Agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn hears from a reader who feels like she has spent enough time looking after grandchildren, and another reader tired of the assumption she has nothing better to do.

Grandmother with grandchild
A reader feels she isn't able to look after her grandchild long-term

Dilemma: I don't want to have to be the babysitter

I have been happily married for 39 years, have three adult sons, work part time and am in reasonably good health apart from arthritis in my knees.

With two of my sons’ children I agreed to help one day a week when they were tiny, and now my middle son has a baby daughter and he is expecting me to make the same commitment. I love spending time with her but I would find it very difficult to cope with a whole day.

I am happy to occasionally babysit my grandchildren and am always ready to help out in an emergency, but what was relatively easy when I was in my forties is much harder now – especially as the extra weight will cause severe knee pain.

I know my son will be upset but I feel I’ve done my bit and my husband and I deserve to enjoy our free time.

Katharine Whitehorn’s answer

There’s no question, in my mind, that you should not take this on; the question remains how to stop your son feeling discriminated against.

It may go against the grain, as you’re obviously lively and say you are still working part time, but I think you should play up your frailty rather than talking about your right to have a decent time with your husband at last.

One thing children never grow out of is the idea, deep down, that they should come first in their parents’ affections, so stress how difficult it is for you to even keep on working, but how you would hate to have to ask your sons for financial help, ever.

As you say, you and your husband do plenty of babysitting and give help in emergencies; that’s surely enough.

Dilemma: I don't want to spend my retirement babysitting

I retired over a year ago and looked forward to having time at last to go to exhibitions or go on holiday with friends, but my daughter-in-law seems to assume that I now have all the time in the world to take over the children – two toddlers and an older girl.

I like them well enough, and enjoy spending some time with them, but I had really looked forward to having my freedom while I still have my health.

Katharine Whitehorn's answer

I sympathise: the idea that if you’re old enough to be a gran you have nothing else to interest you is all too prevalent – especially when the mother herself is always pressed for time.

I think your best bet is to have some kind of schedule: you always have the children on Tuesday afternoon, perhaps; or offer to put them to bed once a week, on an agreed day so that it’s obvious that it is ‘gran’s evening’, not any old evening.

Of course, you still might be called on if there’s a crisis, but you’d offer to help in that case anyway. It’s just the idea that you’re always available that you want to get rid of – and quite right too.

Find out what resources are available for grandparent carers

Our readers say...

We also asked our Facebook readers for their advice...

"As you are still working I can only assume you are only in your 60s, if that. Do you not think just one day a week would be too much especially as you have already helped you older son with childminding. You could also be missing out on so much with your granddaughters progress. I am 79 and still give my daughter one day a week in the school holidays and she has three although they aren't babies as the youngest is now five, yes I am exhausted when I get home but wouldn't miss that time with them on my own for anything."

"You looked after the other sons' children it's only right you look after this one as well, you should always try not to make a difference in your children or grandchildren."

"Once we get into our 60s we have done a lot of looking after children and scrimping and saving through the years. I was married for 13 years and had three small children by the age of 33 when my husband went off with a 17-year-old. I did not stay at home I retrained at College and did reception/secretarial work and looked after my three children until they grew up. I loved seeing the grandchilden and looking after them occasionally but you should not 'have' to look after them whilst their parents work or go out. It's not an obligation it should be a pleasure. Of course we all love our grandkids but do not get taken for granted. Old age comes aches and pains and sometimes little ones are just too much. We've done our time with struggling with little ones on buses or in shops. Let the parents have all the pleasure that we had. Bet they wont want to extend to having more of the same when they're old."

"I will be giving up work soon to look after my 6 month old grandchild as my daughter HAS to return to work. I am nearly 66 years old and so looking forward to looking after her. Hopefully, she will keep me young and fit. I don't feel it's a sacrifice at all. Hard work, maybe. That what Mum's do for their children... no matter how old they are!"

"I work 34 hrs a week. I have rheumatoid arthritis and kidney problems. I do all my sons washing and some of my daughters. I cook a couple of meals a week for the whole family. I have my 2yr old grandaughter one long day in the week and do a school and playgroup run plus other baby sitting duties when needed. And do you know what? I bloody love it. Every minute. Its the reason I get up in the mornings. I think you're selfish."

"Just be thankful you have a grandchild to look after. Many people would love to be in that position but are denied the privilege!"

" I took on the care of my 2 grandchildren 16 years ago they are now adults but when they came to me I was going through a divorce and had to go to full time work to support me and my daughter it was hard work but they were my family so there really wasn't a choice. My daughter's little boy is now 5 and because they live quite a distance away I have missed much of his babyhood and toddler years that won't come back but I enjoy what time I spend with him and would gladly give up 1 day a week to have enjoyed that time."

"My husband and I are both 65, we have recently moved hundreds of miles to be by our granddaughter. We love her so much we only used to see her every few months it was an awful wrench to say goodbye to her, so when my husband retired we upped sticks and moved down south. She is nearly four I am disabled but we mind her all day one day a week she keeps us on our toes she never stops but we wouldn't have it any other way, so glad we can see her more often."

"Just say (as I did) sorry, but now I'm retired I have so many other things I wish to do. You won't have as close a relationship with your grand children, but looking back I am glad I stuck to my guns. Good luck."

"Life is about the next generation, where would I have been if my own mother didn't help out! There was six grandchildren and she had every one of them. Rock the grannies."

"I think women have a right to do as they please. Not everyone is obsessed with children, and you are not obliged to do it no matter how much pressure you get from people who think sacrificing their own lives for their perfectly capable grown up children is somehow noble."

" I don't think there's any way around not hurting your son or making him feel discriminated against. That's exactly what you're saying - "I'm still fit to work, but you and your child aren't as important as my other children and their kids were." It's your choice - nobody says you have to do it, but I think if you don't, you're going to cause a world of hurt that will never be undone."

"Omg if only you could walk in my shoes for a week. I have a 35 old son who lost his legs due to septicemia with two sons who's mother is a mother from hell drink drugs u name it my daughter walked out of her marriage with no explanation and is now living with a non desirable partner and has just lost two babies in early pregnancy please stop moaning over stupid things when it comes too to your family!"

"I would love to have grandchildren to love and spoil, but sadly it will never happen."

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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