So good when they go
Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human
relationships, tells how becoming grandparents caused conflict for Mary and Ed
Being a grandparent offers many joys and rewards, but it's not a role everyone
What about those who have quietly heaved a sigh of
relief when their own children have flown the nest? Those who have no desire
whatsoever to get back into nappy changing, lifting, carrying, peacemaking and pacifying,
messy eating, tantrums and toys strewn all over the floor?
Becoming grandparents caused conflict for Mary and
Ed, both of whom had looked forward with relish to the time they could decide on the
spur of the moment to take a break without having to consider others. When youngest son
Terry left home they enjoyed this new lifestyle immensely. Mary picked up on her teaching
career on a 'supply' basis, standing in for absent staff. Ed's business
kept him busy and active, but he could hand over to his partner whenever he and Mary felt
they wanted a holiday.
The problem, inevitably, was how much and when to take
care of the grandchildren. Son Terry and his wife Jane had assumed that as Mary was
not working full time she would automatically want to be involved with the care of the
little ones. It meant that Jane could return to work when their child was two and Mary,
not wanting to disappoint, agreed to care for Jess, a strong-minded little girl, two days
a week. She assumed it would only be a temporary measure until the young family made a
It didn't happen. Jess, centre of
attention until the arrival of baby Marcus, had become rather demanding and bossy. When
Jane talked of returning to work a few months after he was born, Mary dreaded being asked
if she would have Marcus too. She began to feel weighed down by responsibility.
Ed, though less involved, worried about Mary. She
was tired from her baby-minding, and reluctant to go out in the evening or away at the
weekend. He tried to talk to her about it but the conversation became a trigger for
arguments in their otherwise happy relationship.
Eventually this ended in an awful row. Ed was shocked by the strength of feeling expressed
by Mary as she poured out her thoughts about their family. She said she felt taken for
granted, that Ed, Terry and Jane assumed she would want to be there, to be
'useful' as if she had no ambition left of her own.
Though she felt guilty and disloyal, she admitted that she didn't altogether like her
little grandchild. She felt Jess was a manipulative, over-indulged, bad mannered
little girl and if they weren't careful the baby would be as much hard work as his
big sister. In her tired and worried state she looked to the future and saw her own dreams
disappearing. Ed was puzzled at why she had said
nothing before, and felt angry 'that she could say such things'. It was he who suggested that they might seek outside
When they came to see me, we spent some time
talking about Ed and Mary's experiences of parenting. They reminisced about their own childhood and who had
cared for them. What emerged were several significant differences.
At this point a 'Can and Can`t Do' list began to take shape
- Their own parents, now deceased, had no expectations or
ambitions outside the family, certainly not enough to start new things in their late
- For Ed and
Mary, this time of life had been a long anticipated crossroads. A time for travel,
exploring personal ambitions and enjoying leisure time together.
behaviour was not something either felt at ease with and Terry and Jane's parenting
style was very different to Ed and Mary's.
Ed and Mary can't carry on this way - but together they can talk
with Terry and Jane. Neither wished to hurt, offend or cause problems - but they can explain
that although they care about their grandchildren, their own plans no longer leave space
for the present childcare arrangement and they wish to give them time to find another
say 'we only want to see the children once a
week' - but they can be
much more open and flexible about their other
plans, telling everyone when they want to end a visit, or miss a visit.
tell Terry and Jane they are raising their children wrongly (they aren't, they're just doing it
differently) but they can let
them know of their concern over Jess's behaviour.
They can't tell the young parents what to do - but they can have
a few ideas ready if asked - e.g. 'I
wonder if so-and-so might help' or 'Is
it worth trying this for a while?' or 'I found this book the other day, it could
They can't mention the last two things if the earlier
'can do's' have been received
badly, but they can hold onto them and mention them at a later date.
Ed and Mary only needed a couple of sessions to
help sort out their situation, but they left feeling things were in their control. Mary
wrote later to say that Ed was now much more understanding of her position, their news
though a surprise, was accepted by Jess's parents who expressed relief that someone
else had noticed what was also worrying them.
There are several childcare books which have very helpful sections on grandparenting as
well as providing a wealth of ideas, support and insight into child behaviour which would
be worth looking into for both parents and grandparents.
Green, Dr Christopher: Toddler Training
Vermilion - £9.99
Martyn, Elizabeth: Baby Shock: a
Relationship Survival Guide
Relate/Vermilion - £7.99
Hogg, Tracy, with Melinda Blau: Secrets of the Baby Whisperer; for toddlers.
And for parents, on having a second child, Abrams,
Shoes,1 Sock and No Hairbrush.
Cassell & Co. £9.99
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