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Carolyn Hax: Grandma calls daughter-in-law’s social life ‘not fair’

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I raised two kids, and I stayed home full time when they were small. Once I went back to work — my youngest was 4 — my life basically revolved around my job and my kids. I made lunches and took them to school in the morning, worked, then came home and spent the rest of my day focused on them.

I’m not saying that’s the only way to do it, but I distinctly remember having almost no energy left over and having to drop some friendships, activities and social groups.

Now my son and his wife, “Linda,” have two children under 6, and Linda has a dance card full of activities every single week. For a long time, it was her and my son’s business, but I am asked to babysit now at least twice a week, sometimes more often. I always say yes because I love my grandchildren, but I catch myself thinking it’s not fair — not to the kids, not to my son and not to me — that Linda seems not to have slowed down her social life whatsoever since having small children.

Is there a gracious way to intervene, or do I just carry these feelings in silence?

Anonymous: Oh, hell no to intervening, oh my goodness. You had it right with, “I’m not saying that’s the only way to do it.” But you let the rest of your question undermine that valid and highly useful idea.

You and Linda are different people with different styles and energy levels. Your grandkids are different from your kids, with different needs and energy levels. You raised your kids at a time very different from now — when it is finally sinking in that it’s not okay to blame the mom!!! but not the dad for the way your son and Linda choose to raise their children.

I am too slow a typist for all these huffy italics.

Let’s keep going with the things-have-changed idea: You say yourself you were whacked at the end of the day — because you loved your kids and wanted to be a good mom, yes, I’m sure. But wasn’t there some part of you also wondering why only moms were expected to erase themselves making sandwiches? Maybe your happiest move is to stand and applaud your generation for helping to reverse the trend of erasure.

I mean, some parents still want to be parents your way — and that’s great! That actually replaces erasure with agency. So what I’m saying is, do you really wish it upon every mom, but not dad, the drudgery you had — kids job kids sleep job kids sleep kids job kids? Or do you celebrate any progress toward fuller lives and balance — and happier, therefore better, parents?

If you don’t want to babysit so much, then say no. Your prerogative. Agreeing to it when you resent how “unfair” it is is unfair. But if you enjoy it, or are happy with x days/week only, then agree to that freely. Your grandkids are getting a great deal: parents who are present but also model a life outside the home, and abundant grandparent time. I’d argue that’s a richer menu, especially if Linda would be resentful by now if she had chosen your “way to do it.”

I haven’t even gotten into the issue of butting in, either. Your good graces with this family are too precious to squander. The best way to maintain them is to adopt this mantra: “Their way is their way! Good for them.”

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