By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
A few years ago, my oldest child had her first baby–the baby that made me a grandmother, and my daughter a mother. Talk about sheer happiness and joy! That is how my granddaughter makes me feel. I live and breathe for this child, buying her outfits and toys and spoiling her rotten. Her little pudgy face makes me melt and brings a tear to my eye right now as I write you this letter.
When she was born, I had my biggest “aha! moment” yet. There I was, cooped up in an office five days a week, from morning to evening, and out there was my new granddaughter, growing up without me. When my children were little, I worked this same schedule. It was so taxing and emotionally depriving to me that I lived with tremendous guilt and suffered many panic attacks during those years.
With every fiber of my being, I knew I had to quit to help raise this child. I knew my daughter wanted to go to graduate school, and so I decided to offer my grandmotherly services for her to be able to pursue her dreams. We worked out a schedule where I babysit three full days a week.
I’ve painted a perfect picture, so you must be wondering why I am writing to you. In the past few weeks, I have been questioning how much longer I can physically do this. I am a young grandmother, but I do not have the energy I had when I was raising my children. I always want to be involved in her life, but I also find myself wanting to go to lunch with my friends or a midday movie. Aside from feeling like I would be abandoning my little girl and have her raised by a nanny, as my children essentially were, I would be letting down my daughter and potentially putting a stop on graduate school.
I knew she hated being raised by a nanny, and part of her decision to go to graduate school was that I would be watching the baby. This is weighing on me and I would love your input.
A Young Bubby
Dear Young Bubby,
First let me say that your daughter and granddaughter are so very blessed to have you in their lives. Your love and devotion to both of them is so pure and touched me deeply. So often we go through life on autopilot. Some of us do not allow ourselves to experience the depth of your happiness, joy, and attachment, while others do not naturally have the capacity to connect as you do. For several years, you have given your daughter a priceless gift. As a parent, I can say there is no better way to work or even go out for the evening than when you leave your child with a trusted parent such as yourself.
Now that I have sufficiently praised you (or perhaps insufficiently praised you), let’s move on to the two roots of your dilemma as I see them: first, a genuine desire to raise this grandchild and be involved in her life, almost like a second mother. Second, guilt . . . and not surface-level guilt, but the kind that goes deep and way back to when you were raising your own children.
I can speak to the practical, rational part of your brain and ask how long you thought this arrangement would go on. I could tell you that you have given your daughter and granddaughter good years where you rolled up your sleeves, paid your dues, and were in the trenches of infancy and toddlerhood. I could say you have given them both a gift so precious and that they will remember this time and cherish it forever, which is all true. You have gone above and beyond what the vast majority of grandparents do.
I could (and do) suggest that you need not give up the babysitting altogether, but do one day a week instead of three. Obviously, you and your daughter would have to have a discussion about the ramifications for your daughter’s schooling, both financially and emotionally. I could also tell you that you have worked hard and were an excellent mother and provider for your family and now it is your turn to kick back, relax, and enjoy.
I believe the aforementioned is all well and good, but I don’t know that the motivating force beneath this guilt stems from a practical, rational part of your brain. I think the birth of your grandchild triggered the guilt and panic you lived with and suffered from all those years ago when you were working day and night while your children were raised by someone other than you. In a corrective effort, perhaps somewhere subconsciously or consciously even, you decided you would be the stay-at-home mother you weren’t able to be in your past.
As indicated by the guilt and panic you suffered when you were a working mother, I am going to presume you would have stayed home with your children if you could have afforded it, or you simply loved your career and enjoyed it enough that it created a constant struggle for you. Whatever the scenario was, would you feel comfortable letting go of the guilt enough to stop punishing yourself? The work/home dilemma now belongs to your daughter, as it does to all mothers. It is no longer yours. You get to be the grandmother now and enjoy your grandchild in a capacity that fits into your life. What would the situation look like years from now if you are growing more tired and more in need of quality time with your peers? It could potentially be a breeding ground for resentment.
Some children grow up with full-time stay-at-home mothers and some have wonderful, loving nannies and get to see a worldly female role model who has interests, pursues her dreams, and brings home the bacon (er, flanken?) Either way, studies show it is the quality of time with your children and not the quantity that matters most.
I hope I have provided helpful input and spoke to what is impacting you most. As the old saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” I would like to extend it to “If Bubby ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Good luck with your big decision and just enjoy every moment with your precious granddaughter!
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.