Elsewhere, there was a rather short-lived thread that pitched the idea of enlisting grandparents to provide childcare so we, the parents, can work, and they, the grandparents and our children can enjoy extended-family bonding. The author of the post thought that this system, which she has seen work well among other cultures, demonstrates an actual commitment to family that is, perhaps, superior to our own, wherein we view grand-parenting years as a time of freedom and choice and not being tied-down. The commenters mostly stuck up for the North American model of grandparents opting in and out of their grandchildren’s lives and seemed to take umbrage at the suggestion that we demonstrate less love by doing so.

Since I didn’t see the thread before the comments were closed, and people seemed to have plenty to say on the topic, I thought we might flesh it out a bit here. I happen to be in a prime position to actually use this grandparents as childcare model; I work, I am single, I work in my parent’s town, which is one town over from where I live, I pay just south of $10,000 a year in childcare (ouch), while my dad is still working, my mom continues as the stay-at-home-mom she has been since I was born. As things go, I guess we are pretty primed for grandma-as-nanny. In fact, my mom makes a once annual offer to provide childcare for my kids, but I never take her up on it, for some of these reasons:

  1. I had these kids, and they are my responsibility.
  2. My parents had and raised 10 kids of their own, and spent nearly 40 years as primary caretaker for their own brood–I think they deserve to feel that that was their contribution to the next generation. Perhaps if their parents had come and acted as caretakers so they could work, they would feel an itch to care for my kids, but it doesn’t appear that they do.
  3. Dominating my mom’s time would prevent her from grandmothering other grandkids, visiting her own siblings and parents, and generally fostering other family bonds that are of equal worth as her bonds with my children.
  4. There already is some amount of jealousy that my parents see my children so often (Sunday dinners!) and know them better than they know other grandchildren–acting as caretakers would certainly exacerbate that.

There is, however, another element of choice at play, and that is not the choice of the grandparents to take care of the grandchildren or use their time exclusively as they choose to: it is the choice to live near grandparents. If we, as parents, make that choice, we give that grandparent relationship a fighting chance. When we choose to live far from family, well, how can we complain that our culture does not seem to value family?

I know, I know: not everyone has that choice. Not everyone even WANTS that option–for some, their family relationships are much healthier long-distance. And of course, there are generally at least 2 distinct locations where grandparents could be found, and some may feel it is not right to favor one set over another. But let me testify: having grandparents nearby rocks.

My kids have a much deeper relationship with my parents than I ever had with my grandparents, who lived far away. There is just no real substitute for familiarity. And my parents know my kids much better than my grandparents knew me, which I think they enjoy at least most of the time.

I have a sibling who is about to move several thousand miles away from my parents for, you guessed it, a job. Everyone needs a job, sure. But I have a job, too. I just chose a job that keeps me near extended family. In fact, I live in one of those cities where there are LOTS of extended families, because people don’t leave. While they may have job prospects in California, they value being closer to family more than having, maybe, the best job that exists for them. So they take the nearby job instead. I think that demonstrates a pretty good family dynamic. Perhaps we could look at that aspect of fostering family bonds before we castigate grandparents for not wanting to play full-time babysitter.

What do you think: have you considered taking a “lesser” job to stay within a certain reach of other family members?