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Grandma Is Too Busy to Babysit

I’m a big fan of advice columnist Amy Dickinson. I often share her posts when they’re related to grandparenting. This letter is from a pregnant working mom who wrote to Amy complaining that her mother wouldn’t babysit her 4-year old son one day a week. I was surprised by Amy’s advice. Before you read her answer, test yourself and consider how you’d answer the mom. Then let me know your answer in the comment section below.

Dear Amy: I have a 4-year-old son and am expecting another child in a few months. I started my own business a few years ago, and my husband works full time.

My son is in daycare three days a week (we can’t afford more care right now). I asked Mom if she would commit to helping me care for my son on one of the days when he is not in daycare. (My in-laws also help out.)

She balked at the suggestion and actually started yelling at me about it. She works as a sometime-real estate agent but makes herself very busy with women’s groups and volunteer work.

She often offers to watch my son at the last minute when it’s convenient for her but refuses to make a schedule to give me much-needed (begged for) help.

She makes me feel selfish for asking, but I really need help to grow my business and support my family. I get upset that she doesn’t “want” to help me when she spends so much time doing things that to me aren’t as important as helping her family.

She constantly calls me to tell me how “busy” she is, but it’s with things that are completely voluntary, and meanwhile I’m drowning.

She loves my son and he’s an easy, calm child, and my mom is in great health.

I realize she has her own life, but I can’t see why she won’t just agree to one day or even a half-day a week when she often helps my sister (a stay-at-home mom with three kids).

Frustrated Mom

Frustrated Mom: You obviously value your time and energy more than your mother’s. And guess what? She has needs, too.

Why should your mother help you to grow your business on your schedule when she has her own business to tend to? As a real estate agent, she may have to show properties on a varied schedule, which could conflict with a regular babysitting commitment.

You seem to believe that your mother owes you regular child care. She does not. I’m taking it as a given that she provided you with many years of child care — when you were a child and up to the time you left home.

Your mother seems to spend plenty of time with her various grandchildren. You have only one household to tend to, while her commitments are not only to you, but to your siblings and their families, as well.

Perhaps you should enroll your son in a daily preschool program. Or maybe you and your sister could trade child care for each other (you take her kids one day and she takes your son one day). This would yield you one more workday each week.

When you make a request and keep hearing the same answer, you should either stop asking or ask a different question.

Follow-up note: After this column appeared, another reader responded to Amy with this comment: Dear Amy: I was shocked at your heartless reply to “Frustrated Mom,” who wanted her mother to babysit for her one day a week. Family members should take care of each other! – Upset

Amy defended that grandma again. Dear Upset: Absolutely. And this particular grandmother was working as a real estate agent and also helping with other grandchildren. One way for “Frustrated Mom” to take care of her family (which includes her mother) would be to respect the older woman’s limitations.

2 thoughts on “Grandma Is Too Busy to Babysit”

  1. Taking care of grandchildren, regardless of age, is a big commitment to a grandparent. It requires a plan and a schedule. Even the calmest child needs attention at some point. A parent may see their child as calm and self-occupying but grandparents realize the importance of dedicated attention to their grandchildren. This commitment takes time and energy.

    A fair share of grandparents have regrets of lost opportunities while raising their own children and don’t want to make the same mistakes. Most of those experiences have never been talked about because who really wants to admit they didn’t do their ultimate best? Taking care of grandchildren means a chance to fix the past. A do-over, kind-of. When she does agree to babysit, she has prepared herself for it. Whether you can visually see the difference or not, she has accepted the responsibilities of what that mean to her to provide the best care for her grandson.

    Making a commitment to a regular schedule may be more than she is able to do on many levels. Also, from my own experience, regular scheduled visits take away from special unexpected visits. When you become the care giver, that involves discipline and less spoiling. You become responsible for their behavior and not a visit where a grandchild can do no harm. The relationship changes. Maybe your mom doesn’t want to change this special relationship she has with your son.

    She raised her family and this her time to enjoy the benefits of grandparenting. Grandparenting is a special time and can be a special relationship and bond between the two. Caregiving is not her responsibility anymore. Guidance and direction is still on her, but how she chooses to deliver this message is not part of caregiving.

    You mother is fortunate to still be employed at a job she enjoys and can contribute. It’s probably safe to say that she provides help to your family in many ways beyond babysitting. When she calls you to tell you about how busy she is, it could be that she wants recognition that she is doing a good thing. That she is successful. That her life matters to someone. In some ways, she may be looking for your approval and acceptance of her life.

    From your comments, it seems you and your mom both love each other or there would not be so much emotion. Accept her love on the conditions she is able to offer it. You will have a better relationship.

  2. I DO babysit a lot, both on a regular basis and on call. However, my daughter knows I have certain activities I do not want to cancel so she arranges for friends to pick up and drop off kids for several activities. That helps a lot. I also think , because I was the oldest of 5….and I was used to all the responsibility, and I love my grands, I will usually do it. I have had to say no and there is no issue between us. We all work in a kid business so that makes a difference as well. We understand each other.

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