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Dear Grandparents, Please Don't Offer to Watch Your Grandkids If You Don't Mean It

Lacey Rotaro* was excited when her retired father-in-law offered to become the primary caregiver for his first grandchild, once Lacey and her husband were back to work after parental leave. But a strange thing happened during that leave. The new grandfather decided he wouldn't be able to care for the baby. Even though he had raised three children of his own. Even though he has no physical health issues. Even though nothing had changed from the time he offered his services to the time he rescinded that offer, except meeting his grandson, who's as easygoing as infants come.

When Dina Felder* became pregnant, her mother said she'd watch the twins, if only they'd live closer to her. So Dina and her husband moved out of their apartment in the city to a house in the suburbs near Dina's parents. Shortly after getting settled in, Dina's mom explained her plans had changed. She and her husband found a great deal on a new home…a flight away from their grandkids.

To be fair, Shari Ruskie's* retired parents didn't totally back out. They decided to rejoin the workforce part-time, which meant watching their granddaughter part-time too. It wasn't a money issue—they derived more fulfillment from their former careers than they did from staying home with their grandchild five days a week.

Although it's true that nannies can quit at any time, and it's a chance working parents take when they hire one over enrolling their kids in daycare, grandparents aren't nannies. Their working children assume that, because they're such close relatives to the child needing care, they're not going to screw them over. It'd be unfair to expect grandparents to assume the role of caregiver without a discussion. But in these cases, the grandparents said they wanted to watch the babies, only to unapologetically (at least in two cases) change their minds. These Millennial new moms and dads understand that their parents have free will. Why can't their Baby Boomer parents understand the precarious position in which their choices leave their children?

Lacey couldn't land a spot at a daycare for several months after her return to the office. She wound up paying more than she had budgeted for a nanny to fill that gap. Dina delayed her return to work as she waited for a nanny to become available. Shari's in-laws, luckily, pitch in on the days her own parents work.

As any parent in major metropolitan areas knows, those are best-case scenarios. Not every family can afford a full-time sitter, find other relative caregivers or secure a spot in a nearby high-quality daycare. Each set of new parents would have had more childcare choices if they were able to plan their kids' care in the nine months the moms were growing the babies, instead of the days' notice their own families had given them.

Of course, sh*t happens. A person in their 60s or 70s might suffer a health setback that would prevent them from being the adult responsible for a baby. That's not what happened in any of these three instances—or countless others. This isn't a new phenomenon either. Plenty of Greatest Generation grandparents left their Baby Boomer children in similar unfortunate circumstances. But childcare costs have risen exponentially whereas incomes haven't; backing out in the 21st century has financial repercussions that might be felt for years to come.

So I implore you, grandparents: In your excitement over welcoming the newest addition to your clan, resist making promises you can't keep. It's far better to be a regular visitor than an unreliable caregiver.

  • Names have been changed.

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