Me Days for Grandparents Too

Nancy and Sylvia, both of Edmonton, get together once a week for breakfast. The conversation is most often peppered with shared experiences as grandparents. Both Nancy and Sylvia adore their grandchildren and help out often with babysitting. Last week, Nancy shared a conversation with her daughter-in-law, who called to ask Nancy to babysit so she could have a “me day.” Later, Sylvia related the story to her daughter Blythe. “My daughter’s response wasn’t what I really expected to hear,” Sylvia recalls. “She said ‘I can understand wanting a me day. I would like one of those myself.’”

Nancy and Sylvia share the same opinion of ‘me days.’ Like many of us in this grandparent generation, Nancy and Sylvia raised their children with no expectation of me days, unless it was to go out to work. “When my parents came to visit us, I continued to look after my children, make sure my parents were comfortable, and cooked every meal during their visit,” Sylvia says wryly. “Would I have loved a me day? You bet! But I never would have asked my parents to step in.”

Being a parent today is more complicated, certainly, and parents aren’t always comfortable having a stranger take care of their children, especially for an overnight. Add to that, the difference in the relationship we have with our grown children, which is more open, more intimate than the more formal relationship we probably had with our parents. Honor thy father and mother with fabulous meals and extra pillows and footrests has been replaced by honoring the grandchildren’s latest wishes for toys, activities and snacks.

As refreshing as it is to have a friendly relationship with our grown children, they do expect more of us than we did of the previous generation. There is often a sense of entitlement, and such a high level of expectation of us can be stressful on the relationship, not to mention our own sense of well being.

Despite the high level of expectation, most of us wag our tails enthusiastically to meet all requests. Let’s face it, we adore those grandkids. When my daughter announced her first pregnancy, I said I would babysit one weekend a year. However, once that first baby came, I was basically camped outside their door every day, waiting to participate in any way I could. And with three grandchildren now, I am still wagging my tail for any opportunity to spend time with them. Once they reach the teen years, grandparents are just simply embarrassing, so it’s a good idea to take advantage of the younger years, when they think their grandma and grandpa are both really special.

Cliff and Jayne of Sarnia are involved in their grandkids’ lives at least once a week. “We often babysit during the week and always take the children overnight once on the weekend to give their parents a break,” says Jayne. “But Cliff and I have decided we need to set some guidelines about how often we are on call. We want to enjoy our retirement and the activities we love.”

It’s not as easy as it sounds though. Jayne admits she has to work hard at sticking to her boundaries and saying “no, sorry. We aren’t available that day.” There is definitely a fine line between being the grandparent and an unpaid caregiver. If we don’t guard our own independence and well being, our health will suffer. Or, we’ll just be very cranky.

Like Jayne, I talk to myself about boundaries, but it’s most often useless. It’s not because my daughter and son-in-law take advantage or take me for granted. It’s because I want to be available to spend time with my grandchildren. To add to that, when I do babysit, I usually also do several loads of laundry and other housekeeping tasks I see that need to be done. My choice, not theirs. The truth is, I act as if I’m 30 and physically capable of doing it all. In fact, last week when I arrived, my son-in-law reminded Finley to clean up his toys from the kitchen table. Fin replied “But that’s why grammie is here!” We all laughed because Finley knows my need to keep busy will buy him the gift of non-responsibility. And he’s right.

Besides, one of the advantages of being a grandparent who pitches in is that the job does end. I can go home eventually and have my own ‘me day.’

-Bonnie Baker Cowan