If you're a parent and in need of a break, it's pretty much guaranteed that you will hear something along the following lines from probably well-meaning people:
Just ask Grandma to babysit!
It's a given that everyone has able and willing grandparents to babysit their adorable, angelic grandchildren, right? It's a given that all parents have grandparents that can drop everything in seconds to help when the entire family is hit with the flu, right? It's a given that grandparents are the built-in babysitter for all those desperately needed nights out, right?
Ha. Are you shaking your head with me right now because you're either screaming in your head or actually screaming YEAH RIGHT IF ONLY IT WAS ACTUALLY THAT EASY??
Grandparents really aren't hanging around just dying to whisk away their grandchildren to give us poor parents a break.
The truth is, parenting has changed a lot in our generation and so has grandparenting. These days, many grandparents are not the white-haired, rosy-cheeked grandparents of the past just waiting with open arms and cupboards full of fresh-baked treats. These days, many grandparents are still working full-time, still not able to retire or battling health problems that may leave them incapable of caring for grandchildren.
My husband and I have four young children, placing us firmly in the oft-commented "trenches" of parenting, and while we are so, so grateful that our children have both sets of grandparents in their lives, the simple fact is that all four grandparents are full-time employees. They can't afford to take time off from their jobs to help us and they have their own schedules and lives and needs that can—and should—come first.
I still consider us extremely lucky to have them nearby (and honestly, I chose to live down the road from my parents and have loved any extra support!), but as a general rule, grandparents are a last resort request for babysitting. They have their own lives still and it's so important to honor that.
But I won't lie to you, when I hear about other families who have grandparents who are able to drop everything and take care of grandchildren, who may even offer free, full-time care for working parents or who have time to be regular, dependable caretakers, I can't help but be a little envious, no matter how grateful I am for all the help and support we do receive. Does any other family have grandparents who can't babysit 24/7? Surely this isn't normal, right?
As it turns out, if you're a parent with grandparents who can't—or won't—babysit, you're definitely not the odd mom out. The New York Times recently discussed the growing number of grandparents who are Baby Boomers. They are relatively younger and more active grandparents who love their grandchildren, but they've done the parenting gig and they have no desire to do it again. They've done their time and they still want to enjoy life, dammit.
So, yes, by all means, if you're one of the parents just wishing that Grandpa and Gramps were around more or would offer to babysit more, go ahead and be jealous all you want. It's OK. Every family works differently and I think it has helped me, in a way, to realize that the norm now is that grandparents really aren't hanging around just dying to whisk away their grandchildren to give us poor parents a break. It doesn't work that way.
If you have active, young grandparents, we need to realize how much of a gift that really is to have them in your children's life, no matter what way or shape or form their relationship looks like. Maybe you don't have grandparents who can babysit your munchkin whenever you need a night out, but maybe you have grandparents who are modeling what it means to combine work and life. Maybe your children's grandparents aren't available outside of working hours, but maybe they are continuing the jobs that enabled you to have your own start in life to produce those very grandchildren in a healthy way. Maybe your kids' grandparents have their own lives in the evening hours, but if you ask me, all of those things are just proof for us of one very important lesson:
There is life after children, folks. So let's celebrate that, shall we?