Grandma lacks stamina for taking care of child Facing facts: Consideration should be given to the welfare of the youngster.

CHILD LIFE

February 11, 1996|By Beverly Mills | Beverly Mills,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

My daughter-in-law is constantly asking me to watch my granddaughter whenever she wants to go out. I'm in my late 70s and don't have the stamina. I want to know how to say no without any hard feelings.

C.E., Buffalo, N.Y.

This sticky situation becomes easier for everyone when the focus turns away from the needs of the grandmother and the daughter-in-law and centers on the best interests of the child. If the grandmother isn't physically or emotionally able to give the child the quality care she's entitled to, both women need to confront that fact openly and honestly.

"I have a mother-in-law in her mid-70s, and it's always best to be honest," says Beth Jensen of Richmond, Va. "The daughter-in- law probably has the best intentions, thinking she's helping the mother-in-law not to feel lonely. But allowing her to spend the best possible quality time with the child, that's what's most important."

Even if both parties do have the best intentions, the discussion won't necessarily be easy. One expert on seniors finds that grandparents often are embarrassed to admit what they can no longer do.

"They also feel guilty for saying no," says Arlene Uslander of Glenview, Ill., author of "That's What Grandmothers Are For" (Chicago Spectrum Press, $5.95).

"They are also afraid the parent will resent it and start asking other people to baby-sit all of the time," says Ms. Uslander, who also writes a monthly newspaper column for seniors.

This fear is what another expert on grandparents, Sunie Levin from Shawnee Mission, Kan., calls emotional blackmail. "I hear it all the time from grandparents that their children use not letting them see the grandchildren as a threat over their heads," says Ms. Levin, author of "You and Your Grandchildren, Special Ways to Keep in Touch" (Price, Stern, Sloan, $9.50).

Relationship problems like these result in part from faulty assumptions.

"Parents often think that because grandparents have raised their own children that they can take care of their grandchildren just as easily," Ms. Uslander says.

"They forget that grandparents are older now and don't have the same energy. It can be to the child's detriment to have the grandmother baby-sit if she really can't take care of her properly."

Parents also tend to think that at their stage of life, what they have to do is more important than what the grandparents need to do or want to do.

"I see this a lot," Ms. Uslander says. "The parent tells the grandparent they want them to watch the child while they go to the dentist. If the grandmother was going to the hairdresser, they expect her to change her plans."

The better approach, Ms. Uslander says, is to consult with the grandparent about her availability to baby-sit before scheduling the dentist.

Most readers who called Child Life agree that if the grandmother can tactfully explain her physical limitations to her daughter-in-law, the problem should take care of itself. Here are some suggestions from readers:

* "Tell her you're old and the child is very active and you can't run after her," says Sheila Washington of San Leandro, Calif. "Tell her you wouldn't mind if you were younger."

* "Tell her you care enough about the relationship to be honest -- otherwise you may end up feeling angry and resentful," says Linda Ciciotti of Timber Pines, Fla.

* "Say you wouldn't mind sitting while the child is taking a nap," says Carol Kipp of Glen Allen, Va.

* "My children's great-grandmother, who is 81, keeps them only for short spurts," says Becky McCullough of Charlotte, N.C. "That way they get to visit without them getting cranky."

Can you help?

Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at (800) 827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608.

* Make new friends: "My daughter is going to a new school next year, and she is the kind of person who finds it hard to make new friends," says B. Smith of Tallahassee, Fla. "I need some tips. Can anyone help?"

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