Today's post was written by Emily Morgan, host of the wonderful The Grand Life: Wholehearted Grandparenting podcast.
Bone tired. It’s the way you felt once your first baby was born, and then thereafter for so many years. For most of us, that period of life was a long, blurry tunnel with no light at the end. You often stole five-minute naps as the children played. You fell asleep while trying to catch one more episode of television before you had to wake up and start the process of caring for, cleaning up after, and coddling the children you so dearly love. You thought you’d never be this tired again.
Until you had grandchildren.
Now you are much older and—incredibly--busier than you thought you could ever be. So how do you handle the kind of exhaustion that accompanies caring for those little lives you longed for--those sweet grandchildren? Well, much depends on how many grandchildren you have, if they live close to you, and how much help your own children need from you.
We often give our own adult children the kind of advice we’re unwilling to take ourselves. We tell them they need to set aside time for themselves. They need to rest when they can, and they need to take on no more than they can handle. Are you, as a grandparent, willing to do the same?
Our job as grandparents is to support, not fully sustain. Perhaps we need to recognize (and our adult children do, too) that we are merely one part of a support system that extends beyond us. We may need to figure out a way to encourage our children to delegate.
When we are asked for help, we may be tempted to say yes on each occasion. But instead, maybe we should ask ourselves if there may be others who might come alongside our adult children – their friends, babysitters, and community – in order to keep ourselves from overcommitting. As young parents, my husband and I never lived near family, and so we had to get resourceful. I found mother’s-day-out programs. I swapped babysitting with friends. I found a place to exercise that also had a drop off program for my children, and I hired a mother’s helper when I just needed to lie down.
As grandparents, maybe we can encourage our adult children to find alternatives to the care we provide in order for us not to suffer the kind of grandparent burnout I see so many times. I hear from grandparents who are frustrated, and exhausted. Honestly, they tell me they just don’t have it in themselves to do parenting all over again. I understand. And the more grandchildren you have, the harder it gets.
Not only do you not have the bandwidth to care for all of them, but also, the more grandchildren you have, the harder it is to juggle the responsibilities for all of them and mete out a fair amount of time to each.
The hardest part of all of this is communicating our own needs to our adult children. That is the stretch it takes for us all. My advice? The same thing I’d say to our adult children about their jobs or relationships: don’t wait until you are resentful and bitter about how things have been going. Address problems up front as soon as you feel you are being taken advantage of or simply too tired to cope. Same goes for us. Remember that our value as a grandparent extends way beyond what we can do for your family. Our worth is also in what you can be for them – a loving, caring, kind person who is all of those things because we are rested and joyful instead of tired and resentful.
© 2022 Emily Morgan
Emily Morgan hosts The Grand Life: Wholehearted Grandparenting podcast and is in her third year of creating over 80 episodes consisting of stories, interviews and essays about grandparenting. Her The Stretch It Takes essays have become a favorite for her listeners, exploring how to stay flexible in relationships with adult children and grandchildren alike. She and her husband Mike enjoy their 10 grandchildren, who reside with their respective parents in IN, CO, and VA, and who range in age from six months to 10 years old.