Dear Dr. Yael:
Your recent column on “A Grateful But Tired Grandmother” (Dear Dr. Yael, 1-25-13) really struck a chord. I am also part of the “Sandwich Generation” – but I am a triple-decker sandwich.
Baruch Hashem, I have over 10 children (four of whom are married). Being financially comfortable, we have a large home and full-time help – which means our home has become a haven for our married children, and a few of our teenage daughters are getting dumped on by their siblings.
Here’s what happens: On Shabbos our married children will often walk over and leave their children in our teenage daughters’ care. On Sunday they will call them and make arrangements for the girls to baby-sit. One Sunday we came home to find that our large playroom had become a makeshift childcare facility, with our teenage daughters acting as caregivers all day.
I was beside myself. I feel that our married children take such advantage of our teenage daughters, who do not feel that they can say no to their overwhelmed siblings. But as our younger daughters are themselves so busy with schoolwork, we often pitch in to help them when the grandchildren are over.
Here’s another story that strengthens my point: One of the married couples called to inform us that they were stuck Upstate and wanted to know if their children could stay overnight with us. The one rule I have is that overnight visits must be planned in advance, as I do not think it is fair to ask us to stay up with a child who does not yet sleep through the night. In the end, although we were not very happy about it, we kept the children for the night.
Please understand that I am not like the “Grateful But Tired Grandmother,” as I set limits with our married children. My problem, however, is that their kindhearted sisters seem to have a hard time saying no. And since we all live in the same neighborhood, giving the married couples easy access to our home, I find myself increasingly frustrated.
The married children, males and females alike, seem to feel that since we have a large home, full-time cleaning help and a few free babysitters, this is the perfect place for them to dump their kids and run off.
Even though our daughters do not complain, they sometimes seem a bit inundated. As their mother, I feel it is unfair how much our married children take advantage of them. And though I help them, I feel resentful that we are not able to ever have a quiet weekend whereby we can just focus on our single children, who also need our undivided love and attention.
How can we set limits with our married children in a tactful way? This issue aside, we love our children and want to continue having a good and respectful relationship with them.
Your question is challenging because it is hard for me to know each of your individual children’s needs. While it is a tremendous chesed for you and your family to often watch the grandchildren, it can definitely be overwhelming. Here’s your difficulty: How do you tell your children that you love them and want to help them, but that they cannot continue to drop off their children at their leisure? Perhaps you can speak to them about differentiating between “needing” your help and “wanting” your help. Explain to them that you’ll try to be there for them when they “need” your help, but that you may have to sometimes take a rain check when they simply “want” your help.
Discuss this situation with them when you are calm and have thought beforehand about what you want to say, as you do not want to cause any rifts in your relationships with any of your children. Being calm and in a good mood when having this discussion will increase your chances of continuing the seemingly good relationship you have with them. Remember that when people are angry or frustrated, they may say things that they do not mean and their tone of speech may engender a negative result. Thus, it is imperative that you talk to your children in a loving and relaxed manner. Simply explain to them that although you want to help them, and your teenaged children enjoy helping out with their children, you feel that you and the younger children sometimes need a break from the hullabaloo. Emphasize that you understand that they have their hands full and that you admire how good they are with your grandchildren, but that unless they have an important, unavoidable engagement and make babysitting arrangements before their commitment, they cannot just drop the kids off and disappear.