Stories and information from two generations.
As you have read here I am a very long distance grandma. Dan lives in China with his wife and daughter Anqi. My husband and I live in Northern Ontario Canada. It is a 14 hour flight from Toronto and then a train ride to get to Nanjing. It is 14 hour drive to get to Toronto. So I would call that long distance.
My other son Raymond lives with his family a 10 hour drive over the trans Canada highway which is good but very crowded during tourist season. During the winter it is not the safest of drives due to the wind and weather which can cause road closures.
Needless to say we do not visit a lot with either of them. That is why I say computers are our best friends.
Now I have always wanted to be a housewife and mother and then I guessed grandma would just follow along the same route. Boy was I wrong. The housewife and mother went well, I was a stay at home mom since my degree of “Mental Retardation Counselor” was not required in any form in the small town we moved to. So I got to stay home with my children keeping house and being mom. We liked being in a small town and Don has a great job working at the gold mine. The boys did not as they became teens like it. There really was not much to do except outdoors type things which we did a lot of but the other teens figured on just leaving town when they were able to do so.
Raymond moved to the city and went to college to become a welder like his dad. He likes the job but unfortunately for us he also found his wife there. It was great for him and they are happy with their 3 children living just outside the city in a small town. The mines here were not and still are not hiring in fact the one Don works at will be closing in 3 years. So needless to say with no jobs that means Raymond will not return. Except for visits. So that means long distance grandparenting.
Dan moved to a different city and went to university. It was closer and we got to see him more as we go there at least once a month in the spring summer and fall and stock up on groceries which are not available in our small town. Also it is a nice trip just to get out of town and see people and stores. 2 grocery stores, Canadian Tire, Home Hardware and 1 small department store gets a bit boring after a while. He then found no jobs and so he decided to try teaching in another country and he chose China. Why he picked China I do not know since we knew virtually nothing about the country. I talk to people all over the world and have friends via the internet in Australia, England, Japan, Scotland and the States. But he chose China.
He is happy there but as a mom I was extremely worried about him. When Raymond moved it was to a city we knew and he had relatives there so he was not really alone plus he spoke the language. Dan didn’t even know how to say hello in Chinese. Guess he overcame the language barrier since he met his wife there and they now have their daughter.
I am happy for both my children but do I ever have a bad case of Empty Nest.
I have always loved being around children, even when I was considered a child myself. I liked the younger ones who I could baby, and teach things to. I was the most popular babysitter in the town and was turning down jobs each weekend. So now that I have no children of my own and my health is not the greatest I miss little ones.
I have RA and some days it is almost impossible to do much of anything. So trying to plan on going to the library to read to them would not be fair to the staff or the children.
I depend on my computer to keep in touch with my long distance family. I have even been able to sing lullabies to Anqi who I call my littlest angel. I talk to the older ones but they are busy with school so not as often. But it helps.
I can hardly wait for visits this summer and we plan things with both families by computer. Sean is 10 and he has his own web site. To me that is amazing since when I was 10 we had dial phones, and TV. antennae on every house in town. We walked if we wanted to talk to a friend a few blocks away, and parents went outside and hollered when it was time to come home for supper.
Now it is cell phones, ipods, books on E readers and hand held games that we used to play on boards. There am I making you feel old now?
Like I said computers can be a grandparent’s best friend with communicating with your family it is less expensive than the phone since Skype is free and you have the web cam so you can see who you are talking to at the time. But if you look terrible with uncombed hair still in your housecoat you can talk without being seen by not turning on the web cam. When I talk on skype I feel like Mrs. Jetson when her friend called looking wonderful with her hair and makeup perfect then she sneezes and the mask is blown off. Funny when I was 8 but not so funny when it happens to be me. So not perfect no camera. That is number 1 rule.
One day I was talking to Ray’s little ones and I got to see Mia dance. She is in dance classes and was getting ready for a concert so she showed me the dance she would be doing. It was wonderful to see and she said she wanted to show me so I would be able to picture her on stage just as if I was there. That was her way of saying she would love me to be there but she knew it wasn’t possible. I am still a part of her life.
I am thinking about reading books with her as she gets older. Maybe I will introduce her to Anne of Green Gables and the Bobbsey Twins. I know I loved them both and maybe she will enjoy us reading them together by computer.
Cam likes to tell me about the toys and trucks he has and what he does with them. He especially likes the two we got for him that talk. It is so much fun to be part of that part of his life.
So yes computers are wonderful learning tools but they are a far cry from hands on grandparenting but it certainly helps fill in the gaps of love that distance makes.
Before I came to China I knew a little bit about the culture, but since moving here, listening to my students and then marrying a wonderful Chinese woman I’ve learned a lot about family life in China. One big aspect of raising children revolves around the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. Many families, especially more traditional ones revolve around the grandparents raising the children as parents work, often in other cities. This isn’t just grandparents acting as babysitters, but actually taking care of the child 24/7.
With the birth of my daughter, my Chinese in-laws who in some ways are very traditional wanted to help. A lot.
Fortunately, while they’re very traditional in some ways they aren’t as traditional as some other grandparents. So my Mother-in-law did not quit her job as a doctor to live with us. However my wifes’ father, who works from home, has permanently moved into the guest room.
This has given me firsthand experience with the question, can grandparents make good babysitters.
The answer is ‘maybe’.
As a Canadian raised a 1000km away from his grandparents, I’m used to the thought that parents raise the child and grandparents help out occasionally on holidays. Having a grandparent live in the home and providing child care for much of the time is definitely a strange experience for me.
At first there were some arguments, and I was biting my tongue a lot out of respect for my wife. But once things got settled and my in-laws and I learned what was expected and what wasn’t, it started to come together.
From reading various forums, talking with other parents online and my own personal experience here are some things that I would recommend when asking grandparents to babysit.
Compromise With Grandparents, Up to a Point
The biggest complaint from parents about using grandparents has to do with rules, schedules and instructions. Parents want one thing, grandparents often want another.
Since our parents did raise us, or our spouses, we should realize that they have a clue on how to take care of a baby. They may not do everything we like, but as long as it won’t screw up the childs schedule too badly, make a hash out of potty training or hurt the child, its ok. While routine is good, too much of it can be bad. If you feel the need to be this specific, maybe you need to reconsider having your parents babysit.
But there are times when you as a parent should put your foot down, especially if the babysitting is only occasional. There are stories on the net of grandparents ignoring medication, giving children potentially harmful toys, not changing dirty diapers and other things. My own in-laws sometimes forget to change Anqi’s diapers in a timely manner, because she doesn’t cry much unless her diaper is very wet. I’ve told them off for it, and after a few times they’ve really improved.
As long as you explain why you want something done, most reasonable grandparents should be willing to meet you halfway. If they completely ignore you, then its time to find a new babysitter. But you also have to show some leeway yourself, as they’re providing a daycare service that is either free, or much less expensive then the alternatives.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
From reading various forums the largest problem between parents and grandparents isn’t that they’re not willing to compromise, but they’re unwilling to talk. Both sides take it as a given that they’re right and it should be obvious to everyone that they’re right.
I have a serious problem with this one, as my in-laws speak Chinese and very limited English, while I speak English and very limited Chinese. But when there are problems or concerns we still communicate as best we can.
I’m from a cold region, I’m hairy, big and have anti-freeze for blood, so the cold doesn’t affect me. When Anqi was first born I knew she had to stay warm, but didn’t know how warm she should be so I tended to be on the cool side. My in-laws didn’t agree, because Nanjing winters are not very cold but are very damp, and Chinese houses tend to be drafty with no central heating. So they kept bundling her up. By gestures, basic yes and no’s, and by putting on and taking off blankets we managed to get our points across. Anqi would be bundled up, but the blankets or clothes would be kept a little loose, at least in winter.
When asking grandparents for help with babysitting, make sure that everyone is on the same page, or at least the same chapter. And listen to them as well, they may have a good reason for doing what they’re doing.
Show Some Gratitude
Most, not all, but most grandparents are happy to help take care of grandchildren. And many children like it when Grandma and Grandpa come over. However it is still taking time from their lives, and if they’re fairly old, sick or busy it can wear them out. Make sure to let them know how much you appreciate them.
A simple heartfelt thank you is often enough if the babysitting is an occasional thing. If they babysit more frequently and especially if its a regular thing more is required. Consider helping them with chores around the house, buying them groceries for the week, taking them out for a nice dinner, giving them a really nice gift, or paying them money. Even if your mom or dad don’t ask for anything, doing this will help make them feel appreciated. It may also make them more willing to listen to your instructions on dealing with the children.
Use, Don’t Abuse Your Parents
My wife and I went on a day trip Monday (a national holiday in China), leaving Anqi with her mother and father for the day. It was a great trip for us, and we both came back recharged and ready for action. But before we left we made sure that her parents were completely free that day.
Last Friday my wife and I had wanted to go on a trip, but her father wanted to go and meet some of his friends that day. We didn’t beg him to look after Anqi, instead we stayed home and told him to have a relaxing day with his friends.
Your parents have lives of their own, they may be willing to change their plans but forcing them to do it frequently is definitely not a nice thing to do. If its an emergency its understandable and you must do what you have to do, even if it interferes with other people. But remember, if you were constantly having your plans altered with little or no warning, how would you feel?
Now, if there is a planned routine that you have both agreed on, that’s different. If the grandparents look after their grandchild a few days every week, keep doing it. Just remember to ask what their plans are and if they need a break once in a while to recuperate. It will let them know you care.
Come June, my main teaching job will be over, allowing me to spend most of the week at home. Once that happens, I’ll let my father-in-law know that he can do anything he wants, and only call on him occasionally for help. Of course if he wants to help I’m not going to stop him, he and Anqi get along quite well, but I’ll make sure he knows there is an option for him.
Letting grandparents provide childcare can be great, as it lets them interact with the grandchildren, lets parents have a day off, and is cheaper than hiring a babysitter or daycare. Just make sure to compromise, keep the lines of communication open, let them know their helps appreciated and don’t abuse the help. If this is done by everyone, not just parents but grandparents as well, then it will lead to a healthy relationship. If its too one sided, than no one will be very happy and could lead to broken hearts and family feuds.