Know Your Limits
While grandparents offer their grandkids infinite love, other resources may have limits
There are limits for grandparents?! That concept seems to contradict the essence of being a grandparent. The thought of denying anything to my blue-eyed, sweet-natured grandson is almost inconceivable. Rudolph Giuliani described the role of grandparents, “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” Although I agree with him on a philosophical level, the realist in me knows I do have physical, financial and time limitations. I feel selfish even writing that sentence but it’s better to be honest with ourselves, our adult kids and our grandchildren.
I’ve been very fortunate with my health and not to brag (well, ok maybe just a little bragging), but I think I’m in fairly good shape for a grandmother. I compete in triathlons and open-water swims, so it seems like a reasonable expectation I should be able to take care of my eight-month-old grandchild for a day and still have reserves of energy, right?
Apparently, I had amnesia that was abruptly cured when I began taking care of my grandson; I had forgotten what taking care of a young child entails. Getting myself off the floor is difficult, so why wouldn’t I have known getting off the floor while holding a squirming twenty-pound baby would be a Herculean task? Even when our minds and heart long to spend hours playing with our grandchildren, sometimes our body rebels. As much as I want to live in denial, the reality confronts me every day; I don’t have the same amount of energy at the age of 60 that I had at forty or even fifty. My grandson and I have many things in common, and the need for a daily nap is one of them!
When young couples are beginning their families, they often have financial hardships and turn to their parents for assistance. Grandparents are frequently an economic safety net for the younger generations. An AARP study showed that 53% of grandparents help with education costs for their grandchildren and 37% assist with everyday expenses.
If you are able to provide help and can do so without a major financial strain, that’s great, but make sure you are not sacrificing your own long-term security. Very few of us have bottomless bank accounts; be honest with your children about your financial constraints. We have a rapidly diminishing time where we will be earning money, and we need to be wise about planning for our own future. Our children are most likely at the point where they have many years of earning potential ahead of them. Before putting your own “golden years” in jeopardy, consult with a financial planner and possibly an attorney.
Before Callister was born, I offered to provide full-time child care for my grandson for the first year of life. Fortunately, they only needed me part time because I soon remembered how much more difficult it is to run errands or even make simple phone calls while taking care of a baby. Besides the time I need to do the mundane tasks of life, I also need time for my own hobbies and pursuits.
At the age of thirty I thought sixty was ancient, but now that I’m there it feels I’m beginning an exciting new chapter. There is still so much I want to do: hobbies to explore, friends I enjoy having lunch with, trips to be taken and a stack of books begging to be read. Time used to seem expendable, but now that my expiration date is looming closer I realize it is indeed an always-diminishing commodity. It’s not easy for me to put aside the notion I should be accessible to my grandchild at all times, but I know it’s healthy to find a balance.
I love being a grandparent, as do most of the people reading this blog. My heart often tells me to just throw myself into all aspects of grandparenting but then reality pulls me back and I admit my physical, financial and time resources do have boundaries. My grandchild’s parents fully accept my limitations; I’m the one that needs reminders. As soon as my grandson is safely buckled in his car seat I start to miss his sweet little face and have to restrain myself from chasing their car down the driveway and calling out “bring him back!” Fortunately, I’m drawn back in the house by the louder call of the couch and I succumb to the siren song of an afternoon nap. Recharge to grandmother another day!