Mom rants about unhelpful grandparents, but is she asking too much?

March 2, 2020

For many parents, grandparents are heroes. They offer great advice, love their grandkids like their own and are always there for support in a pinch. But how much is too much for a parent to ask of their child’s grandparents? In a recent letter to Slate’s advice column, Dear Prudence, a mom reveals that she’s furious at her in-laws for not doing more to help with her kids, but her demands have some parents raising their eyebrows.

The mom writes that she and her husband have two children under 4, and they live in a major city about an hour away from their in-laws. Like a lot of parents, they have busy schedules and finances are tight, so the mom wants her in-laws to do more to lighten the load. The problem is she expects them to drive an hour each way every day to pick up her son from preschool. 

“Traffic is horrible and the school has a $20 fine for every 15 minutes you are late,” she writes. “I have begged my husband to get his parents on board, but the conversation was fruitless. He asked his father and got told while they would be available in an emergency, we need to ‘figure out’ our own lives. We choose to live in the city instead of down the street and they aren’t going to drive every day.”

The mom says she’s “appalled” that her in-laws won’t make more of an effort to help. She thinks they prioritize their dogs, volunteer work and weekly card games over their own grandkids, and she says their unwillingess to help has made her stop caring if her kids ever see their grandparents.

The mom’s letter has sparked intense reactions from grandparents and parents online. A lot of people are stunned by what they’re describing as the mom’s “entitled” behavior.

Others are defending the mom, claiming that grandparents today are self-centered and don’t understand the struggles modern parents face.

It’s true that many modern parents need help. Most families in the U.S. are spending at least 10% of their income on child care. They’re also working longer hours. A 2014 Gallup poll found that half of all full-time workers in the U.S. work more than 40 hours per week, and nearly four in 10 say they work at least 50 hours. The mom who’s asking for advice is describing legitimate struggles, but should grandparents really be expected to share in that burden?

 

Justine Reegan, a grandmother of two who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, tells Care.com she’d do a lot for her grandkids, but there has to be a boundary somewhere. “I adore my grandbabies, and I’m always happy to help their parents out. I see it as my job to help,” she says. “A two-hour commute every day is more than ‘helping.’ That’s a lot of time to give up, especially for free. You have to see grandparents as people … because we are. Our time matters, too.”

Sally Henderson, a grandmother of two from Dallas, Texas, has a different take. “I want to be a grandma, not a babysitter,” she says. “I don’t mind helping on an occasional date night or something, and I never want to see my family suffer, but I’m not there to be the parent or the babysitter. I’m the grandma. I’m done with the work of raising kids.”

While many parents like to think of grandparents as having endless resources and free time, a lot of grandparents are still dealing with their own difficult financial realities and work situations. A 2016 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 48% of households headed by someone 55 or older have no retirement savings, and a 2019 survey by the AARP found that the number of grandparents in the workforce has increased in the past seven years, with 40% of grandparents currently employed.

Many grandparents simply don’t have the time or money to commute an hour each day to pick someone else’s children up from preschool. And if grandparents are financially secure and able to spend their retirement years playing cards, walking the dog and volunteering instead of fighting hours of traffic each day to make it to preschool pickup, can you really blame them for prioritizing the former? Grandparents are not free nannies or a substitute for Uber. They’re members of the family, and they deserve respect and consideration.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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