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Striking the Right Balance

Many people worry about being asked, and even expected, to look after grandchildren on a more or less permanent basis once they retire. There seems to be a common misconception amongst some of our children that once we retire we will have nothing else to do all day except mind their children whilst they go out to work.

Sometimes there is no alternative and, indeed, some grandparents are only too glad to do it. However, many people fear that they will be expected to do it even though they might not want to. We all love our grandchildren dearly but many of us feel that we still have our own lives to lead in retirement. Each of us will know how much babysitting or childminding we are prepared to do and where the line is. The problem is that many of us feel that we can't say 'No' when we are asked to do more than we really want to.

For many people there is, therefore, a balance to be drawn between wanting to help our children and also building a relationship with our grandchildren on the one hand and becoming almost full-time parents again on the other. How do we strike that balance so that everyone feels happy about it?

Guide to Grandparenting links


The only way is by talking it through and coming to an agreement - which may well involve compromise on everyone's part. It's very hard to say, 'No' to our children if they want us to look after the grandchildren but it's better to draw the lines early on than to commit to something you don't really want to do and then let it fester. The resentment that is generated will eventually come to the surface and then things can go badly wrong.

So be prepared to have some possibly difficult discussions in the short term so that the relationships with your children and grandchildren will be stronger in the long term. Grandchildren are a huge joy and we all want to enjoy the relationship with them to the maximum. This is best done by being open and honest about what we're prepared to do right from the start so that everyone can work together for the best.

How much we see our grandchildren and what our role is will determine the kind of relationship that we have with them. Of course we hope that we're going to have a warm, loving relationship but if, for example, we are going to be doing a lot of child-minding, our relationship will be different than if we see the grandchildren only in the company of their parents.

Many couples have disagreements about how best to bring up their children and this can then translate into bringing up grandchildren. We may well disagree with how our children bring them up - what type of discipline they use, what they allow them to do and not to do and so on. Most of us keep quiet because we consider that it's not really our business but, if we have a child-minding role, that's not really possible. There are no absolute black and white answers for this but, if we do have a role in actually bringing up our grandchildren, however small it might be, it's best to talk things through with the parents so that both we and they are consistent in their approach to the little ones. It's important that they get consistency and they will only get it if we know how everyone is approaching it.

The Modern Grandparents' GuideAgain, this might mean some difficult conversations early on, but better to have them in a rational way, before a difficult situation arises, than have them when something has gone wrong and everyone is a bit emotional.

Grandchildren are a great joy and we should enjoy them to the full. Creating this relationship does, however, depend on the co-operation of their parents, your children, so it is important to be open and honest and to come to agreements on the logistics of it all as soon as possible. If everyone is comfortable with how it's all going to work, then everyone will relax into it and, most importantly, our grandchildren will reap the benefit.

Now read the rest of this guide by clicking on the links in the box. If you have any grandparenting experiences that you would like to share, please do so through the feedback form.

This Guide is written by Retirement Specialist Dave Sinclair supported by members of the LaterLife team. As well as writing on retirement matters Dave is Training Director at LaterLife and responsible for the content and continuous improvement of LaterLife's Retirement Courses.
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