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Grandmother's Guilt over Babysitting

QUESTION: I am a business owner and a grandmother of six. I have grandchildren between the ages of two and eight. I feel guilty for not being able to do more babysitting than I do, and because I do not like to take them overnights until they are potty-trained. Do you think I'm being selfish?

ANSWER: It is not matter of being selfish, but of creating a successful fit for yourself in your family. You must consider your needs and desires, your adult children's needs and desires for your involvement, and what you want out of your role as a grandparent.

Consider the following questions in determining the right amount of babysitting for you:

  1. What kind of role you want to play in your grandchildren's lives? You have raised your own children and clearly feel no desire to change diapers any more. However, it is true that the more involved you are in the everyday tasks of caretaking, the greater the potential bond will be between yourself and a grandchild. There is some truth that struggling through the uncomfortable jobs forges deeper bonds with a young child. Consider whether this is something of value to you. But do not feel compelled to change diapers if this is your personal limit. Doing so will only cause resentment instead of closeness.

  2. What are your needs? You have six grandchildren, and you are not retired. Instead, you are engaged in full-time work with the added responsibility of business ownership. You may indeed need to set parameters in which you can enjoy your grandchildren, rather than feel overly responsible for them. And with six of them, you will need to decide what time expenditure is realistic. Do not be shy to set limits that respect your current lifestyle.

  3. What are the needs of others? No doubt your adult children could use help, like most parents. And you may want to be available to them, but unsure of what you can promise. There may be ways you can help other than babysitting. Ask questions to see what kind of help may be needed. If you can help in a way that clarifies your usefulness to others and remains satisfying to you, your guilt may diminish. You will not relegate your worth to the amount of babysitting you do, but rather how you can be an integral part of the family network. Perhaps you could offer to pay for specific activities that would not otherwise be affordable. For example, suppose little Johnny wants to go to summer camp, but his parents do not have the financial resources to send him. This, too can be a grandmother's role.

There are many possible roles a grandparent can play, and although you may not involve yourself in the early caretaking tasks, that does not mean that you will not be an essential resource to your grandchildren as they grow. Or that you will not develop a bond with a grandchild who is older. Much will depend upon your availability and willingness to reach out when you do have the energy, time, and desire to do so.

Being a happy grandparent means that there must be a successful fit between your needs and the needs of your adult children in caring for the next generation. Grandparents come in all shapes and sizes, and we are all different. Some grandmas love to nurture grandbabies from the time they are born, while others are not the least bit interested in the early stages of child development and prefer to know them as older children. Some grandmothers babysit a lot, others a bit, and some not at all!

The word of warning is that to some extent you will reap what you sow. Do not overtax yourself out of guilt. But do not expect grandchildren to reach out to you in the autumn years of your life, if you have not kept yourself in touch with their lives. Find a balance that works for you and maintains a family bond that will endure through the years.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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