“Who else are you going to leave them with?” says the East Meadow, LI, 75-year-old, who works three days a week at a medical supply store and juggles lunch dates and doctor appointments to care for the kids. “We’re on call every day. I don’t say anything, because they’re my grandchildren.” Besides, she adds, “child care is expensive and you hear these horrible stories. Most people feel most comfortable with family.”
No wonder grandparents are stretched so thin these days. But some are getting fed up, and are either setting limits on their duties or outright refusing to sit in the first place.
“From Day 1, I said, ‘I don’t baby-sit,’ ” says Betty, a Midwood grandmother who broke the news to her son and his wife when they told her they were expecting. Even so, she agreed to watch their infant one evening when the couple went to a wedding. But she didn’t stay long, calling them to say their baby wouldn’t stop crying. “When they came home, I gave them $20 and I said, ‘Go hire a baby sitter.’ ”
Still, the 65-year-old — who asked that her last name not be used, for privacy reasons — insists that her refusal to baby-sit has nothing to do with her love for her children. “I feel like I paid my dues,” she says, adding that, as a stay-at-home mother, she never had any outside help caring for her brood. “I’d rather be honest with my kids than resent them. My friends who [baby-sit] will privately say they resent it.”
“I think that … this generation feels they’re entitled to everything,” Betty adds. “This is part of the picture — ‘I think my parents should baby-sit for my kids whether they want to or not.’ ”
Experts say that times have changed because of increasing pressure in the workforce — for both parents and grandparents.
“A generation or two ago, it’s more likely the mom was home. Now everyone’s working and everyone’s busy,” says Sally Tannen, director of the parenting center at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y. “Grandparents are working longer and have very busy lives.”
Tannen’s advice? Grandparents should be upfront and honest about whether they can baby-sit.
But some new mothers think it’s not even up for discussion.
“My in-laws live 10 minutes away [via] Uber, and I haven’t gotten five minutes of help from them,” says Jessica, who works for a wealth management firm and has yet to take maternity leave after the births of her children, ages 18 months and 4 months. She says her mother-in-law told her she shouldn’t have had two kids so close together. “What should I do?” replied Jessica, 27. “Kill one off?”
Her parents live across the country, so when Jessica, who asked that her last name not be published, lost her nanny a few weeks ago, she was desperate. Luckily, she says, she has a 25-year-old brother who’s pitched in, baby-sitting almost every day. “It’s weird to me that my own 25-year-old kid brother does more than their adult grandparents,” says Jessica, who’s glad that her husband agrees. “I would be thrilled if once a week they asked, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ They’ve never done that.”
Some grandparents are very happy to help, within reason.
“It’s a blessing to have grandchildren, but I didn’t retire just to be a baby sitter,” says former teacher Sharon Kotchek, 69, a mother of two and grandmother of five. “I decided to help out my children, but in no way was I going to raise my grandchildren. I already raised two wonderful children.”
The Long Islander says her heart broke last summer as she watched a man with a bad back struggle to keep up with his granddaughter in the park. “He said to me, ‘What can I do? My daughter has to work,’ ” Kotchek says, adding, “Where is it written that you have to stop your life and raise your grandchildren?”
Shira Dicker, an Upper West Side consultant, can’t wait to spend time with her only grandchild, now 5 months. Even so, the mother of three remembers being taken aback when her own mother told her she shouldn’t expect any full-time baby-sitting. And while her mother did help out, Dicker says other grandparents should realize that it’s OK to just say no.
“We did our parenting,” she says. “It’s reasonable for parents to hope — not to expect — that the grandparents will want to be a part of the kid’s life.”