• Tue, Nov 12 - 9:00 am ET

More Grandparents Are Raising Their Grandchildren And I Wish My Parents Were Among Them

shutterstock_114639469My parents are pretty involved in my kids’ lives, but frankly I wish it was more.  I wish they watched them on a daily basis like the other 7.7 million U.S. children who are cared for by their grandparents.

New research, conducted by US 2010, a research project on changes in American society funded by Brown University and the Russell Sage Foundation, confirms a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing that one in 10 grandparents raising grandchildren.

Of course these arrangements aren’t always the families’ preference — it’s typically an arrangement of convenience or necessity.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Amy Goyer, AARP’s expert on multigenerational and family issues, cited the 2007 recession as one the biggest reasons for the uptick in multigenerational households.

“Grandparents have always been a safety net,” she said, adding that nearly 20 percent of grandparents with grandchildren in the house are living below the poverty line.

The study concluded that almost one-third of grandmothers who live with their grandchildren are the primary caregivers. Black and Hispanic grandmothers are more likely than white grandmothers to live with grandchildren and black grandmothers are more likely than Hispanic grandmothers to be the primary caregivers, the report found.

This describes my childhood.  My parents were dirt poor and the only babysitters I ever had were family members — my grandmother, my great-grandmother or my aunts.  My children will be better off financially than my situation as a child, but that way of life is still in my blood.  Something about people caring for my children in my home feels wrong to me if it’s not a family member.

But even more than a safety net for our family, it’s more of a unique vantage point.  When I watch my kids with my parents, I can hardly believe my eyes.  They are so much more loving, affectionate and patient than they were with me and my brother.  They are much less stressed, knowing that they are important figures in the lives of their grandchildren, without being charged with the responsibility of raising them.  My kids love my parents with a love I had for my own nana at that age and it chokes me up to see.  When I recently went back to work in the office full-time I begged my parents to care for them every day.  And they said no.

I respect that my parents are very young and they don’t want to give up their lives for their grandchildren.  They, instead, want to enjoy that special and unique relationship — where they can play an active role without the pressure of having to make the tough decisions and endure the monotonous exhaustion of caring for them all day, five days a week. I can’t begrudge them that, but the truth is, I wish they were the ones with my kids every day.

(photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

You can reach this post's author, Carinn Jade, on twitter.
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  • chickadee

    I can completely understand your position, and I had sort of a similar situation when my daughters were small. My parents were 58 and 57 when my eldest was born, and they refused (politely and lovingly, but firmly) to be named as guardians for our baby should something happen to my (now ex) and me. They said they were not willing to raise another child (they had raised four, and the youngest was in college) and although they loved me and her enormously, it was too large a task to take on at that point.

    Perhaps if my ex and I had had no siblings, my parents would have been more willing to step in. But I could understand their position then, because babies and small children wear you out. And now, as my husband and I have medically ensured we will not have children, and since my eldest is nearly 20, I can see more clearly my parents’ perspective. Hell no — I am becoming the caretaker to no small people at this point. I have been there and done that. Not that my daughter is showing ANY signs of producing someone for me to look after — she has informed me that grandmotherhood is at least 15 years away, for which I am eternally grateful. I’m 42, and there is NO way I (a) want to be a young grandmother and (b) want to change diapers or deal with tantrums on a daily basis. Not again, man.

    I do wonder, too, how many grandparents in that survey are caretakers by default.

    • Carinn Jade

      I love your perspective. I don’t give them a hard time about it. Hell
      no, I don’t even want to deal with diapers and tantrums! What fooled me into asking was their level of involvement. My mother does homework with my
      son, she never passed off a dirty diaper and knows everything they will eat.
      They aren’t the hop them up on sugar and hand them back before bedtime type of
      grandparents. Of course there is still a big gap between the occasional but
      involved caregiver and a full-time one. I get it. I try to be grateful for what I’ve got.

    • chickadee

      Oh no, I didn’t think you ever gave your parents a hard time — I just figured you were saying it to us.

      Dirty diapers are no one’s friends, and can I just say that I loved bringing the girls to visit family, because my sisters and brother and parents pretty much snatched the children from my arms and left me not a whole lot to do, even during the tantrum ages. I suspect that this was because we lived about a thousand miles away from the family until the girls were school-aged…..

  • Polyamorous Mom

    i wish mine would at least babysit

    • Bethany Ramos

      Yup! My husband’s parents are in town and oddly reserved about the whole babysitting thing. They do it once a month, but we set it up like clockwork via email. I’m not complaining about free babysitting whatsoever, but they are never, ever going to be the type that asks us if they can watch the kids for us because they randomly want to see them on the weekend.

    • Angela

      You could be right, but they may change as your kids get older. Some people have a hard time around young kids but really enjoy the older ones (or visa versa). And then some people just aren’t really up to kids of any age.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Good point, my MIL seems really freaked out by babies! I just kinda thought that grandparents close by would say, hey, we can take the kids for the afternoon. But there I go assuming. ;)

    • Mel

      I asked my mom if she could watch the kid this weekend and she was really dissappointed that I meant the baby and not my 4 year old. She loves the boy, but babies are just boring to her!

    • Aldonza

      Yeah, my Mom’s parents were really not that into being in charge of us or taking us when we were younger, but by the time we were around 8 or 9 they were a lot more up for taking us for the night or weekend.

  • Véronique Houde

    No, I’m sure you actually don’t want that for your parents. Your parents need a life outside of raising children – they’ve done it all before and need to focus their energy somewhere else. And your children need caregivers that have the energy and stamina of a younger person. Most studies point that when grandparents are raising their grandchildren, the children are much less stimulated at a young age, and hence don’t succeed as well in school (in general of course – not claiming that all grandparents are like this).

    And then above that, there’s all of the issues surrounding conflicts in child-rearing. My FIL and MIL take care of their other grandchildren in France, and my boyfriend and I constantly hear about all of the tension that has accumulated between my boyfriend’s brother and wife and parents. The kids are at their grandparents too often and have started to resent their parents, the parents disagree with certain ways that the grandparents are raising the children, the parents feel trapped about keeping the children with the grandparents because they feel as though the grandfather will become depressed if he can’t take care of the children anymore, the grandparents are exhausted from being with the kids all of the time, the parents complain that the grandparents never take the kids out of their apartment… The list goes on and on.

    TBH, even if my parents wanted to take care of my children full time, I would most likely refuse. I want my parents to have their own lives and not feel chained (voluntarily or not) to my life and my children’s. I don’t want to feel as though I am the reason that my parents are feeling happy and occupied. I want my children to be around children their own age (a little bit later on) and not stay at home with grandma all of the time.

    I want my parents to babysit on occasion and have a blast and do special activities with my chlidren. That’s it.

    • Angela

      The things you point out are sometimes true but I think that it’s more important to evaluate each situation individually than to lump all grandparents into one group. My own parents are still working full-time themselves but even if they retired I don’t think they’d have the energy to chase after my 2 and 4 year old all day. I think the kids would wind up watching too much TV and eating lots of junk food. My MIL on the other hand does a fabulous job of looking after my niece and nephew. She plays outside with them every day, plans lots of fun crafts, and they get tons of attention. If we lived near her I wouldn’t hesitate to let her watch my children as well. And when my own mom retires in a few years I’ll likely reconsider. For one thing my kids would be in school so it would not take up her entire day. It would just be for a couple hours until either my husband or I get off work. And the kids would be older and more independent as well.

      Some grandparents would rather not spend their days caring for children but other genuinely love it. And while it’s true that grandparents may be more likely to insist on doing things their way there are drawbacks and advantages to every type of childcare. Grandparents are also less likely to send your kid home every time she gets the sniffles and more likely to be understanding when you’re running late. And while daycare providers can and should love their charges they aren’t forming the same long-term attachment that grandparents do. I just don’t think there’s a one size fits all answer to this.

    • Aldonza

      One of my very good friends is a single Mom, and her Mom started watching her child because there weren’t any other options and it has caused so much trouble between them. They are constantly arguing over what’s best for her daughter, and her Mom feels like she should have a full say in decisions since she’s a caretaker. It can put a huge strain on a relationship. It’s sort of like how it’s not always a good idea to live with a really good friend. Things get made too personal.

    • once upon a time

      This. My wonderful mother in law stepped in when I unexpectedly got a job and was sole daycare provider for about three months. When she was a grandmother who my son saw for a couple of hours at a time I didn’t mind that she filled him full of junk food and let him watch TV non-stop and didn’t make him tidy up his toys – that’s what grandparents are supposed to do, right?! – but as a daycare solution, it was really teaching him some bad habits. And what the hell could I say about it? She was watching him, three days a week, for free!

      And as much as my MIL insisted that she loved having him, I think she was relieved when I found a daycare spot. She was starting to organise her life around my son and my work schedule, and I think that if we had continued, we would have started resenting each other.

  • KB

    Looks like I’m in the minority here. I guess I’m pretty fortunate — my parents (and siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.) jump at every chance to spend time with my baby. My mom even adjusted her work schedule so she can help me out two days a week while I do schoolwork. I’m sure she’d quit her job altogether if I needed her to (not that I’d ever want or ask her to do that). My parents aren’t raising my daughter, but they are very involved in her life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Alex

    Family support is a wonderful luxury to have, but that’s a far cry from hoping that they will raise your children.

    What you want is for them to occasionally look after and babysit and relieve some of the childcare burden while developing a close relationship with your children. That (to an extent) is reasonable.

    What isn’t reasonable is to expect them to significantly alter their lives in their elderly years to take on significant child-rearing responsibilities that you should be able to handle. They’ve already put in their stressful parenting years, with you. They should be able to enjoy the fun grandparenting years without having the stress all over again.

  • Amber Starr

    My parents and I didn’t have the best relationship when I was a child, but we have made peace and grown much closer over the last 5 years. I absolutely cannot wait to see them with their first grandchild/ When my daughter is born, I just know that they will be amazing grandparents and they will show my little girl more love than she know what to do with. They are already showing their excitement at the prospects of babysitting (on occasion) and spending time with her. They won’t be her primary caregivers (I will be a SAHM), but they are ready to care for her whenever I ask. I never had grandparents (both grandmothers died in their 20′s & both grandfathers were horrible people who were not part of the grandkids lives at all), so I am so thankful that my child has grandparents who are already spoiling and loving the crap outta her (and shes not even born yet!).

  • TwentiSomething Mom

    I understand as well. Growing up, everyone in the family was involved, all pitched in and lived close to one another. Now that people are doing better and moving away we not only have as less people around to help but the idea is, we sacrificed so you can do better, now that you’re better off you should be able to stay home or afford to pay someone.

    My parents were young when they had me as well so didn’t really get to have the college experience, date or have freedom in their 20s. Now that the people in my family are in their 40s with an empty nest, they are making up for missed times.

  • thisshortenough

    My granny raised me (my granddad was there too but he wasn’t really in a parenting role) ever since my mam died when I was 13 and I think it was the best situation I could have been in (after having my mam still around of course). She spoiled me a bit but we are incredibly close and I can talk to her about anything really. She managed to do all this after raising 9 kids herself so that is even more impressive to me.

  • Ann B.

    My step mother is the babysitter to my 2 nieces, so she has them 8 hours a day Monday through Thursday, and then she keeps the girls overnight Friday ( my brother and his fiancee get off work around 10-11) and they get them whenever they get up. The idea is that she’s free child care. She adores the grand kids and is so good with them, but she does put her grandmother role first and babysitter role second. What that means is that she basically ignores any instructions my brother and his fiancee have about the girls and does whatever she wants keeping in mind the idea that it’s her job to spoil them. I’ve watched her give my at the time 15 month old niece drinks out of her Coke can ( something that I know her mother and father both would have a heart attack over) and then told me to keep it a secret. On the flip side, any time I am around my brother and his fiancee, they complain about every little thing she does – apparently the 4 year old in size 8 (” she’s not fat, but that’s ridiculous” they said to me) because my disabled stepmom can’t make a home cooked meal for them every night and because she gives them too many snacks. She uses her own sleep schedule for the girls instead of following the one they want her to follow. I don’t trust her full time with my kids because I want someone who will enforce discipline, follow my house rules, and so forth… and you just can’t ask that of your parent when they are babysitting FOR FREE.

    Meanwhile, I actually really enjoy what not having my kids daily does for my parents’ relationship with them. I lived with my mom for awhile when my kids were smaller, and she got exhausted by them. She’s a 61 year old woman. She’s not equipped to deal with them all the time. But seeing them once a week or so, she’s always excited and happy to see them, wants to actively do stuff with them, plays, goes for walks, puts them to work in her yard… I like not having to deal with the complications of expecting my parents to balance the babysitter and grandparent roles, and also giving them the breaks they need to deal with these hooligans.

  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    My husband and I don’t have our parents in town. His parents both remarried, and my mom passed and my dad isn’t a reliable person.
    My in-laws have come into town, and when they have we’ve had the luxury of child care. I got my hair done and my husband and I went to a party! When we go to our hometown and we visit my aunt, she is happy for us to go out to a movie while she stays home with our baby.
    Oh, these glimpses of what could be with local extended family… we have some here, but they’re same-generation family, 2/3 raising their own kids. It’s not the same.

    • ChillMama

      Yeah, same here. Actually, absolutely no family in town. I sometimes yearn for the type of situation where family could just pop over for an hour or two to watch my little one while I do groceries or something. At the same time though, I love living where I do and wouldn’t want to move. It’s a trade-off I guess.

  • Rachel Sea

    You do not wish that your parents were raising your kids. The primary caregiving grandparents discussed in the study are not babysitters, they are parenting their grandkids because the parents are non-custodial due to incarceration, drugs, abuse, death, or other factors.

    It’s one thing to have a multigenerational household for love and convenience, it’s quite another to have it out of crushing need.

  • SA

    I, too, don’t believe that this study is about grandparents helping out and a ‘sunshine and rainbows’ type situation. A lot of this is where parents are incapable or have had to move back in or there is no other option for the grandparents. Being ‘raised’ by a grandparent is different from getting some child-care from a grandparent. I see too many grandparents being taken advantage of as well.

    I love my daughter with every fiber of my being and wish that I could be a SAHM to her. However, in my retirement, I don’t see wanting to be a full-time SAH Grandparent. I hope many things for my future life and I hope those same things for my parents.

  • Janok Place

    I get this, and I agree and I don’t. My in laws, no stinking way. Ever. My husband and I were both raised mostly by our grandparents…. I would appreciate it if my dad would go more out of his way to be of assistance, but he’s a musician…. And …. Well…. I spent a lot of time with his parents. My mom owned a restaurant and worked 80 hours a week. Both folks missed a lot of my childhood. But you know, that was ok. My grandparents were crazy about kids, they loved me to pieces. My parents love my daughter but my dads always in the wind and my mom, she’s a tough love lady. She loves kids because some day they grow up and start contributing, right now she can humor them for a short period of time but if she’s there to help she’s more likely to renovate then babysit.

  • aliceblue

    I get that you wish your kids could spend everyday with someone who loves them like your parent do, but “begging” them to care for you child everyday is selfish. MAYBE asking once to determine if there is any interest, but to try to “guilt” them via begging is not cool. Also, if you love them, why would you still “wish” that they would do something that would make them unhappy. They grew up poor, worked hard (maybe are still working? Should they quit?) and now want to enjoy themselves and their grandchildren are part, not all, of that enjoyment.

    If it makes it any easier, I doubt that they would remain quite so “patient” and “unstressed” as you now see if they had to take care of your children 5 days a week.

  • guest

    I wonder if it is a cultural thing – my eastern European parents are literally sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for my sister or I to have children so they can retire and take care of the babies. As both my sister and I intend to return to work shortly after having children, we can’t imagine anyone else taking care of our children, and I will be forever grateful. Actually, come to think of it – if we suggested alternative childcare they would be appalled. I however do often times think that after my parents have spent so much time and energy on raising us and supporting us that they deserve a break from children, and if it was up to me and my sister we’d be sending them on year long vacations around the world, but they wont hear of it.

  • Ashley

    I doubt any of our parents will be able to retire (and thereby have time to babysit) by the time we have kids. I would miss the free childcare, and the potential bond between the kid and its grandparents, but I imagine we’ll at least avoid a lot of fights (re: childrearing, religion, gender roles, etc)

  • SarahJesness

    In some cultures, grandparents do most of the childrearing for their grandchildren. Just throwing that out there, in case anyone says this is really, really horrible, or that it’s only natural for parents to be the primary child-raisers.

  • Andi

    My parents refuse to babysit on more than an occasional basis and I have to ask .Why should they? They didn’t have the kids did they? That was my own choice and I have no right to foist it on others. Its a bit of a tall order for them no? I mean I wish my friends would cover for me at work everyday for free. It Would be nice but I have no right to expect it or to ask for it. This comes across as somewhat entitled.