The Reluctant Grandparent

For many people, the birth of a grandchild is a long-awaited and extraordinarily happy event, but not everyone looks toward becoming a grandparent with eager anticipation.

While the reasons for a reluctant attitude toward grandparenting might vary from person to person, a lack of enthusiasm about the arrival of one’s children’s children certainly has the potential to cause a great deal of family discord.

Grandmother with her Granddaughter
Ekaterina Shakharova on Unsplash

One Grandmother’s Story

Janice has been a single parent since her two children were very young. She raised a son and a daughter with no hands-on help and very little financial assistance from her ex-husband. By the time that both children were grown and on their own, Janice was, as she says, “plain exhausted.”

Three years after emptying her nest, Janice’s daughter announced that she and her husband were expecting a baby and as much as she wanted to be excited about the notion of becoming a grandmother, Janice says that she just couldn’t seem to summon much enthusiasm.

Now, six years later, Janice is a grandmother three times over, yet she still hasn’t found the experience to be as enriching as do some of her peers.

“I love my grandchildren. I really do. But I’m never going to be that grandma who drones on to her friends about the things that the grandchildren are doing or invites the kids to spend summers at her house. And I sometimes feel a little guilty about that.”

Modern Grandparents

A few generations ago, most grandparents were at a “slowing down” point in their lives, but many of today’s grandparents are busy with their careers, often working long hours to make the most of what they consider their maximum earning years.

Stress and already overcommitted day-planners can leave little time for entertaining grandchildren, even for those grandparents who take genuine pleasure in spending time with the youngest members of their families.

For others, like Janice, who prefer the company of adults, family time can sometimes feel more like an obligation than a joy.

“When my daughter visits with my granddaughter or my son and his wife come by with their twins, I have to admit that the noise and the mess often make me feel tense and uneasy,” says Janice. “I put on a happy face,” she adds, “but in all honesty, I’m usually a little relieved when they go home and the house is quiet again.”

Finding Balance

In the months after her first grandchild was born, Janice tried unsuccessfully to feign the feelings that she thought she should have.

“My daughter was hurt that her mother-in-law was always popping over to see the baby and picking up little things for her in the shops, while I seemed content to visit less frequently.” Janice recalls.

Her daughter mentioned her concerns and became tearful, which made Janice feel bad. “I wasn’t trying to be hurtful,” she says. “Until it was brought to my attention, I honestly didn’t realize that what I felt was that out of the ordinary.

I have learned to be more attentive,” she continues, “and that has helped a great deal.”

Both of Janice’s children live near her, so she is able to schedule frequent, but short visits, which suits her perfectly. “We’ve found a happy balance,” she says.

“We alternate hosting regular, casual get-togethers so that we all stay connected, but when they are looking for someone to take care of their kids overnight or longer, my children tend to ask their in-laws.”

Letting Go of Expectations

Every family is as unique as the people who comprise it, and there is no one “right” way for family members to interact.

Some grandparents are delighted to be regular caregivers for their grandkids, while others are more comfortable to take a less hands-on approach.

In the end, all that really matters is that the members of each family, from the oldest to the youngest, know that they are loved and accepted for who they are.

Janice sums up her situation by saying, “I may not be one to attend every little event, but my kids know that I love them and my grandchildren know it, too. And that’s good enough for me.”

4 thoughts on “The Reluctant Grandparent”

  1. I am just wanting to thank Janice for her story, for her honesty and willing to share her story. It is good you have have found a ‘balance’ that will work for you all, a balance in knowing that you love your family and that you too are loved. I wish you, your children and your grandchildren much happiness.

  2. I did not have warm, nurturing grandparents when I was growing up- one set lived in a different hemisphere and we only saw them a few times during my childhood; the other set were hard, detached, uninvolved and distant. I dreaded their visits! Being seen and not heard was how they liked their grandchildren. I hoped for a different experience for my own children. It is difficult for me to come to terms with how reluctant my parents actually are when it comes to my children, and it leaves me disappointed and hurt.

    Yesterday, I left their home after a visit feeling distressed and guttered. My three year old daughter innocently decided to pick one of my father’s prize flowers and hand it to me with a heartfelt, “ love you mommy!” My less than impressed Dad shouted at her so loudly that the windows shook and my heart almost stopped! (she burst into sobs that came from deep within her little soul)

    He would not accept that this was an innocent gesture from my daughter and insisted that she was vindictive and naughty with no respect. My Mom joined him in moaning at me and telling me that I must learn to control my children!

    It was not the first time that I left my parents home feeling distressed and sad. My husband and I are firm and fair when it comes to bringing up our children- one has to be realistic and reasonable when dealing with an 8 year old and a 3 year old.

    I don’t feel that it would be right not to take my children to visit them ( I would most certainly be accused of withholding them)but the damage that is being caused to relationships is worrying and I don’t want my children to dread visiting my parents like I did my grandparents.

    • @Franki – but before you make any decisions to stop visiting your parents, have a chat to them and tell them what has upset you. If we all communicated better we would have a much better chance of making our relationships less tumultuous.

  3. It’s hard being with grandparents if they don’t treat all the grandchildren equally and that makes me feel annoyed and i feel sorry for my sibling because they are treating as dirt and not loved grandchildren.

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