Ask Amy

Grandmother wonders if she is obligated to babysit

Chicago Tribune

Dear Amy: I am a 67-year-old divorced, single woman.

I live about 10 minutes from my daughter and babysit for my 18-month-old granddaughter two days a week.

My daughter pays me a little bit, and I use that money to buy lunch food and snacks.

My granddaughter’s brother is almost nine. My daughter wants me to keep both children during summer vacation, but I know that my grandson will be very bored.

All he wants to do is play games on my Kindle.

There is not much I can do that will interest two children with such a large age span.

My problem is that I love my grandchildren very much, but I really don’t enjoy baby-sitting -- I just don’t have the energy or creativity to keep the children occupied.

There are so many other volunteer positions and activities I’d rather be doing than staying in and baby-sitting.

My daughter complains that they don’t have the money for child care, and yet they have money for their own interests, drive two late-model SUVs, have a large above-ground swimming pool, etc.

My question is this: Am I a bad person for not wanting to babysit? My back and head hurt just thinking about the summer and beyond.

Grounded Grandmother

Dear Grounded: You are not a bad person for not wanting to babysit. You have the right to live the life you want to live. Loving your grandchildren and wanting to spend time with them should not obligate you to take full-time responsibility for them over the summer.

Your grandson should be in a day camp during the summer. There are low-cost opportunities, which your daughter should research. The parents’ job is to find stimulating activities to engage their son over the gaping yaw that is summertime. Camps, sports and summer programs will be better for him than hanging out with you and his toddler sister.

You don’t say what baby-sitting arrangements your daughter has in place for her youngest during the days you aren’t there. Child care is the parents’ responsibility, and you might offer to fill in the gaps or pitch in in an emergency, but if you don’t want to take on regular child care, you shouldn’t. And you shouldn’t have to justify your reasons.

Your daughter is not going to like your refusal to provide full-time child care. But you are simply going to have to train her to make other arrangements by starting to say “no.”

Dear Amy: I was shocked to see such a one-sided group of letters extolling the virtues of parenthood in your usually even-handed column. My husband and I are happily childless by choice. Procreating isn’t the only way to find love, joy and meaning in life.

Indeed, many would argue that the planet is already past its peak capacity to support human life.

Many would agree that some people should not have children. All children should be wanted, loved and cared for appropriately. And even people who are financially and emotionally perfect for raising children should not be looked down upon if they choose not to.

My husband and I consciously include young people and children in our lives through hosting international students and involving young family members and friends in our activities.

And while some people with children do achieve MDs and Ph.D.s while raising a family, it takes a toll on the children and adults. We chose not to do that. We are in our 70s and our lives are truly complete.

Jeannette Franks, Ph.D. and Richard Baker, M.D.

Dear Ms. Franks and Dr. Baker: Responding to a previous letter from a woman whose husband didn’t want to have children, I asked for men to contact me regarding their own complicated feelings and fears about having children. Many men responded.

As always, I chose to publish responses that represented the overall point of view. The men who contacted me expressed their own hesitations before having children, their struggles after having children and their happiness at their choice in retrospect.

I’m very happy you also responded, to represent your completely valid choice not to have children, and your satisfaction and happiness regarding your own choice. I assume your point of view is also highly representative of other adults who are childless by choice.

Dear Readers: Sometimes people who dispense advice run out of answers. If you’ve ever been curious about the life behind my advice, read my new book, “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home” (2017, Hachette).

Email Amy at askamy@amydickinson.com.

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