Nov 16, 2020
Grandparents who become caregivers for their grands are taking on a big challenge--lots of physical and mental work, and a wonderful payoff, potentially. This episode is packed with observations and insights from experts, grandparents, and moms.
Fern Schumer Chapman is the co-author of Happy Harper Thursdays.
--local area agencies on aging
--Kinship Navigator programs in your area
EMILY'S ESSAY (The Stretch It Takes)
With nine grandchildren, five of whom live within a mile of me, I figured it was only a matter of time before I might be called upon to help with childcare. I looked forward to the chance, and so when one of our daughters who was working as a nurse asked me if I could watch her baby, our newest granddaughter, I was thrilled.
I saw it as a chance to bond in a way that I had missed with our first four grandchildren who lived a long distance away. I was also happy to brush up on the newest child care methods and equipment. It had been a long time since I had used a car seat, a baby swing, or a nursery monitor. Surely all these things would come in handy! I wondered if I would be rusty when it came to changing diapers ,or rocking a baby to sleep.
Here’s some of what I learned. I learned that when you’re in your mid-50s, buckling and unbuckling a car seat can be painful. Discerning the movements on a blurry nanny cam can sometimes be tricky. And bouncing a fretful baby can be hard on the legs.
But what I didn’t need to re-learn was how to love and snuggle a newborn. That came back to me in an instant. There is nothing like nuzzling the crook of a baby's neck for me to feel unparalleled euphoria. And eliciting a smile from that little baby was like someone had handed me a gift I got to unwrap over and over.
Those things came easy, and often, in those early days of caring for her.
The other thing that came back to me in an instant was my lack of boundaries. I had a hard time saying no when called upon to fill in or stay longer. What’s interesting about taking care of an infant is that whether it’s your own baby or your grandbaby, the issue of taking care of yourself still comes into play.
Is there a point in your grandparenting where you need to step in and say you can’t do something? Yes. It’s hard. We want to be there for our children and our grandchildren, but honestly, it’s taxing and tiring, and we do have limits...at least I do.
My adult children have taught me that boundaries are important. I didn’t have boundaries as a young mother. I sacrificed and gave of myself so much. Too much. I remember fantasizing about having to be hospitalized just so I could get some rest. I had given birth to four children in four and half years, and I was perpetually exhausted.
And now as a grandmother, with more limitations on my stamina and a gaggle of grandchildren to support with time and energy, I am realizing that there are times when I have to say “no, thank you, not today” when I’m called to watch a grandchild or attend a soccer game, or go to the zoo.
What has been wonderful to watch is that my own children have developed boundaries of their own. They set aside family time, they decline sometimes when I invite them over to dinner, and they aren’t always quick to come over and help if they are otherwise engaged. I support that, and am trying hard to adopt that way of thinking.
I have learned from them that I don’t always have to say, “Yes” and that what I want is equally important in the equation. This has not been easy for me. Saying yes, for me, was the same as saying I love you. I forget that I need to love myself sometimes. It’s getting easier as I go. I have figured out a good balance. Sometimes I willingly make sacrifices, and other times I recognize I have reached a limit.
For the most part, I have removed the word “should” from my vocabulary. I also am less generous with the words “I’m sorry” and use that only when I’m looking for true forgiveness, not when I’m just placating someone.
The best part of boundaries is this: if you model them, then others around you will do the same and there will be much less resentment and tension. I didn’t do a great job of it as a young mom, but fortunately, I have been given a second chance as a grandmother to show my grandchildren what it means to stand up for themselves... and to measure their own happiness not by what they should do, but what they want to do...for the good of themselves, and others.
© 2020 Emily Morgan