Q: Our son and his wife both work and have extremely busy lives — probably too busy. My husband and I frequently take care of our grandchildren so that their mum and dad can keep their hectic pace. We love being with the children, but do you think this is a healthy arrangement?
A: You obviously love your grandchildren, and there’s nothing wrong with intergenerational cooperation. It’s a good thing for family members to help one another as needs arise. But a great deal depends on the attitudes and expectations of your son and his wife. If you’re feeling unappreciated, put upon, or taken advantage of — even a little bit — then it’s safe to say that something needs to change.
If you want your interactions with your son, his wife, and your grandchildren to remain positive, we’d encourage you to establish appropriate boundaries. Arrangements like yours usually work best when everyone agrees on some specific limitations. For example, you can say, “We’ll keep the children two afternoons a week until your graduate coursework is finished in December.” If things remain vague and open-ended, it’s only a matter of time until you’ll begin to resent it.
If you’re finding it difficult to set reasonable boundaries, it’s possible that you’re operating on the basis of a guilty sense of obligation or your own co-dependent needs. Neither leads to healthy relationships. It’s also important to remember that while grandparents have a critical role to play in the lives of their grandchildren, it’s best, under normal circumstances, that they not take on the role of primary caregivers. That’s the parents’ job. If you honestly feel that Mum and Dad are missing out on opportunities to strengthen their connection with their own children, it may be best for everyone if you don’t make yourselves so available.
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