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When your child was born, maybe your mom and dad rallied around, showered the baby with presents, and wanted to hold the child all the time. Maybe your in-laws did the same. But now… a couple years on, when you’d kill for some free babysitting now and then… either the grandparents are always “too busy” or when they do take the kids they expect you to cover all their expenses, down to sending along money for ice creams.

You hate to say it but you’re starting to feel a little resentful. This feeling is increased if one set of grandparents is always helpful and the other set is not. Or if your best friend gushes constantly about the overnights her kids get at Grandma’s house whenever she and her hubby want to get away. It’s just not fair that your children’s grandparents do so little.

What can you do to get your children’s grandparents to pitch in willingly and without fuss? Should you start to charge them for the privilege of seeing their grandkids?

Well, let’s stop and consider. First off, you know these people. You at least know your own parents and your partner knows his. You know if they have always been penny-pinchers. If they have narcissistic tendencies, you know it by now. And you know you’re not going to change them. People do not become wonderfully generous and other-directed once a new grandchild is on the scene if they weren’t that way before. Or if they do, the impulse doesn’t last very long.

Also… if one grandparent or the other has remarried, this might have changed the dynamic quite a bit. Your children might not be quite so front-and-center in the old folks’ minds as they might have been if both of them had raised you (or your partner).  And your life and the lives of your children might not be so front-and-center even if all the grandparents’ marriages are still going strong. After all, they already raised you and now they might be enjoying kid-free time to travel, work on hobbies and do all sorts of other stuff.

It’s also possible, if the grandparents are retired and their portfolio took a hit in recent years, your mom and dad may be living closer to the edge than you imagine. The cost of those ice creams adds up.

Obviously, holding the grandkids hostage while you wait for their grandparents to take on a more active role is not going to solve any of these issues. And the value to your children of connecting with the older generation is worth some generosity on your part. So try this: meet the grandparents more than halfway.

First, reduce your expectations. There really is no list of grandparent requirements, so whatever your children’s grandparents choose to contribute is up to them. It’s also not fair to compare one set of grandparents to another. If this is causing some discomfort in your own marriage, if one parent is embarrassed by his or her parents’ lack of contribution, then the other should be careful to not make an issue of this.  As we all know from our teenage years, it’s impossible to control one’s parents!

Second, if you have something you’d like your parents to do with or for the grandchildren, speak up. Don’t hint around and hope they volunteer. Ask politely, giving them a way out so no one feels trapped. If they say no, let it go. But if they say yes, make doing whatever it is as easy as possible for them. If they’re taking the kids for the day, offer to send along a $20 bill per child, to help defray expenses.

Third, at a quiet moment when there’s nothing else going on, ask your mom and dad how they’d like to be involved. Tell them how much your children enjoy seeing them and how important you think it is that they have a great relationship with their grandparents. Tell them that you know they’re busy. Then ask if there are things they’d like to be involved in with the children or things they absolutely never want to do. If there’s no hope of ever getting a sleepover out of these people, now you’ll know.

Finally, show your appreciation. Say thank you. Don’t criticize however they handled the kids, what they fed them, or how late they let the children stay up. Just say thank you.

The more you can make hanging out with the grandchildren ordinary and routine, the easier it will be for your parents to take on this role. Children grow up fast and while you may not notice it day to day, if the grandparents only see the children every month or two, it’s almost like seeing new kids every time. The relationship your children have with your parents is important. It provides your kids with an insight into the past and gives them experience in dealing with older adults, and it keeps the old folks in touch with the younger generation. And it helps you stay sane. This is a relationship worth working on.

You’re in between here, and that’s never a comfortable spot. So lower your expectations, take whatever help and goodies come your way, and be happy.


© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.