[Note: This article first appeared in Healthline.]
I know it sounds like a crazy question but a story on social media reported that an Australian model brought her 2-year old daughter to her mother’s every weekend so she and her husband could have some time alone.
The reactions to the story were less than kind. One critic on Twitter wrote: “What’s with this trend of parents using grandparents as part-time parents?”
A Facebook response was equally cold: “Why even have a child if you can’t handle them on the weekends as well?!?! I don’t understand some people pawning off their children every chance they can. Sure it’s healthy to get time away, but every weekend, all weekend is absurd.”
One detail missing from the story is that nobody asked the grandmother how she felt about the arrangement.
Did she love having her granddaughter every weekend or did she long for a chance to make adults-only plans? Was she comfortable bringing up this issue with her son and daughter-in-law?
And just how long a time period is meant by “the weekend?”
Clear Communication Is the Key
Kelly Roberts, Ph.D., LMFT, and assistant professor of educational psychology at the University of North Texas, said there’s a problem with judging an Australian couple by norms developed for American society.
“U.S. families are diversifying in structure and function. However, grandparents who spend a great deal of time with their grandchildren, or even serve as a ‘co-parent’ (or sometimes the primary parent[s]) are common in many segments of the U.S. population.”
Healthy families don’t all look alike, she added. Multi-generational households were once common here.
“There are all types and styles of families that function in a healthy manner … who communicate, are flexible, have secure relationships and trust among each other, and who are clear about their roles,” she said. “They choose to grandparent a certain way and they choose to parent a certain way. Above all, a child will be secure in their environment if expectations are clear.”
She said the key was clear communication.
“Grandparents spending time with their grandchildren is a negotiated agreement. And, as long as the parent(s) and grandparent(s) feel comfortable and secure in their agreement, have communicated rules or boundaries or clear expectations when with the children, then it’s simply a matter of personal style.”
Still, the frequency of the Australian couple’s arrangement seemed to stick in some grandmotherly craws.
“Taking the grandkids every weekend is over the top,” says human resources professional Kim Beeson, herself the grandmother of two. “An occasional visit to grandma should be an exciting break in the kids’ normal routine.”
“A sleepover and homemade pancakes made by Gramps the next day before heading home is a plus for all involved. The parents have a date night, the grandparents get to dote on the little ones, and the kids get a few hours of being spoiled. Other than that, the parents need to be parents and raise their own kids,” she said.
Supporting the Parents
It can be exhausting to be a grandparent and it’s exacerbated by poor communication. Several grandmas weighed in on the topic.
One grandma complained that her daughter doesn’t even have the courtesy to say what time she will be returning that day.
Norma Campbell Barnett is both a licensed clinical social worker and a devoted grandmother of three. She doesn’t feel she’s doing too much. She likes it. Her kids are caught up in jobs and demands. They are more pressured and work longer hours. They really appreciate the help.
On the whole, grandparents now are much more involved than our parents. On the other hand, we didn’t want our parents to be so involved.
In discussing this issue, Barnett made clear that the key question is, “Is this serving the needs of the child?”
She feared “misattunement and misunderstanding of the needs of a 2-year-old” and the possible disruption of the attachment process.
“For the first 18 months, a child needs a secure attachment to the primary caregiver, something reliable and predictable. A whole weekend is a lot from a developmental point of view,” she said.
Retired teacher Chris Low spends time every week caring for her two granddaughters, both under 2. She feels there’s a complex list of factors to consider about multigenerational arrangements.
The “priorities of the grandparents, the frequency of weekend grandparental care … the age of the grandparents and their health status, new parents’ values and finances” are among them.
But she was probably speaking for a lot of grandparents when she added, “Personally, I would still want my life.”
What’s your opinion? Would you take care of your grandchildren every weekend?