Grandparents, or Built-In Babysitters?

By Amy Dickinson | November 19th, 2018

Childcare requests, boundaries and differing expectations


DEAR AMY: My lady friend, “Kate,” and I have been together for nine years. We both have children and grandkids from our marriages. We are active seniors and travel often. When not traveling, we go out to dinner several times weekly and are fairly active socially.

When my grandkids came along, I made it perfectly clear that I would be more than willing to babysit now and then – whether it is for their parents to have a date night or if an issue arose where they couldn’t find a sitter otherwise.

I said I would not be a built-in sitter; I would not commit to sitting every week on a set schedule. This has worked out just fine for me and my family.

Kate has four young grandkids – two boys and two girls. She babysits constantly for her daughters – weekdays, weekends, etc. Her daughters will ask her to sit at the drop of a hat. They take advantage of her. This has disrupted our life together tremendously.

I find myself sitting home many nights alone – weekends included. I deeply care for this person but find myself resentful and lonely many days (and nights). How can I handle this tactfully? – Confused in Colorado 

DEAR CONFUSED: You could mitigate some of your loneliness by diving in as a de-facto grandparent for these children, but you have already successfully created limits and boundaries with your own kids, demonstrating the limits to your interest in providing childcare for your own kin, not to mention someone else’s.

You don’t say whether “Kate” is complaining about her grandparenting duties. If she doesn’t like being the go-to granny for her daughters, then she should set boundaries, just as you have done.

Kate has got a new job. It’s as if she has signed up to be on the crew for the world’s most unpredictable airline. She is possibly taking on almost twice the childcare responsibility of either of her daughters, as she juggles between the needs of both families. If she weren’t willing/available, these two sisters would find a way to double up and trade off taking care of each other’s children, eliminating the need for granny to step in.


You should talk to Kate, calmly and without complaining. Ask her if she is willing to set aside inviolate “couple time” where you and she can count on being together. Is she willing to clear every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday evening for you two? Is she willing to ever say no to a last-minute non-emergency sitting request?

If she isn’t willing to prioritize any of her time – for her and for you – then you should find worthwhile things to do with your own time. Sitting at home and waiting for the sitter to come and sit with you isn’t the best use of your own freedom in retirement.

In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers. Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068

© 2018 by Amy Dickinson

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