Not all grandparents are happy to look after their grandchildren on a regular basis but hardly any of them fess up to this fact, choosing instead to feign delight at the prospect of caring for one, two, three of the little cherubs as often as one, two, three times per week.
Because that’s exactly how they want to spend their retirements.
They’re not allowed to say anything though. Grandparents are meant to delight in their grandchildren, to rejoice in every single moment in their presence, to crave their company, to want to lavish them with attention.
There are just a few problems.
Grandparents are older, they are tired and some of them want to choose when they see their grandchildren, not have their company forced upon them by grown children who think nothing of using them as a free source of childcare as often as they like. They’re grannies, not nannies.
“Mum loves cooking with Timmy.”
“Dad can’t wait to help Molly build her doll house.”
Even those grown up children who take the time to consider the possibility that their elderly parents may not think fondly of having their retirement hijacked by grandchildren won’t necessarily get an honest answer.
“Mum, are you sure you can cope with having Timmy three days per week while I work?”
“Of course darling, don’t you worry about a thing. You just concentrate on your work. He can live here if he likes. In fact, all of you move in!”
Grandmothers aren't going to tell their grown children the truth because they want to help them.
Then there's my mum.
It took me asking her around twenty (million) times before she eventually admitted that it was "sometimes a bit hard" to look after her grandkids on a regular basis. My sister and I had taken to regularly dropping our children off to her so we could work and I started to notice that she seemed a bit tired and ever so slightly reluctant. So I pushed and I pushed and I pushed until she admitted the truth.
"I don't want to look after the kids on a regular basis. Every now and then is okay though."
I was actually relieved. I had suspected she wasn't enjoying all her time with them as much as we all assumed she was and I was happy for her to choose how she wanted to live the rest of her life. I'd seen first-hand how hard it was to raise her four children. Now that we were grown she deserved to do whatever the hell she liked with her time.
Unless we needed her for the occasional childcare clash that was bound to happen. But we don't push our luck. The less she sees them, the better.
If she wanted to have grandkids at her house every single day, that's what I wanted for her.
If she wanted to travel, that's what I wanted for her.
If she wanted to renovate the house, that's what I wanted her to do.
And do you know what happened?
The less our mum saw the kids the more she wanted to see them. At least, that's what happened eventually, after she'd had a nice long break. These days Mum looks after them for an hour or two here and there. During school holidays she takes a couple of them out at a time to the movies and such and they all really enjoy themselves. It's a joy to see.
If grandparents feel pressure to look after their grandchildren it can ruin their relationship with them. Take for example an older couple who lived opposite me a few years back. I didn't know them very well, which is probably why she felt comfortable confiding in me. She had knocked on my door asking me to check her mail and put her bins out while she and her husband went away for a holiday.
"He really needs it," she said, referring to her husband. "Looking after *Timmy while our daughter works really takes it out of him."
Mamamia staff share the worst thing their in laws have done. Article continues after this video.
Then there's my friend's mother who made the shameful confession that she wasn't exactly looking forward to having her grandson for the day. She'd NEVER tell her grown son that.
Grandparents have to love spending time with their grandchildren. It's nature! It's biology! It's natural!
Some thing we don't often discuss as the average age of first-time mothers get older is the fact that the average age of first-time grandparents is also getting older as well. This might come as news to you but older people are often tired, sometimes lacking in energy and also have occasional health issues to deal with.
My mum started suffering from arthritis which meant she could no longer even lift our babies, meaning she was only available to babysit the kids who could walk and talk and lift themselves.
Also grandchildren are little bundles of endless energy, demanding everything and anything. I sometimes think that the reason why some grandparents indulge their grandchildren so much is because they just don't have the strength to say "no". It's easier to give in, restful even.
Sure, have another lolly. Now, let's watch more TV.
"You HAVE to help me, that's why I moved here," one grandmother I spoke to reported her grown daughter saying to her.
Another friend's mother whispered to me in her kitchen that having all of her grandchildren each week was, "getting a bit much".
If we were to relieve our grandparents of their babysitting obligations it would cause a huge issue, not just for individual families, but for the economy. Grandparents currently provide approximately $20 million in free childcare in Australia. That's a lot of funding and new places that would be required. It would require a complete restructuring of childcare affordability and availability.
That'll happen! I've been waiting for that for over a decade.
Come on Aussie politicians, it can be done. Denmark would be happy to show you how...
I'd never want to force my parents or mother-in-law to spend time with my children. That wouldn't help their relationship with them and that's my ultimate goal...to ensure my parents and mother-in-law enjoy their time with my children, with no pressure whatsoever, and for my children to feel loved and cherished by them all, every single time they see them.
*Timmy not his real name