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Caring for Grandchildren? Set a Routine, Use a Little Discipline

separator If you spend a lot of time taking care of your grandchildren, chances are you wouldn’t have it any other way. You love them dearly and you’re glad to play an important role in their lives, but let’s face it: taking care of them takes a lot out of you. Anyone who’s ever cared for children knows they’ll take as much as they can get. You’ll never hear, “Okay grandmom, now it’s time for us to do something to help you!”

Here’s the story of Ruth, an involved grandmother if ever there was one. Ruth keeps her days (and grandchildren) in control by sticking to a schedule, by not being a “pushover grandmother” and sometimes, by injecting a little dose of Bingo.

Ruth: a caregiving grandmother
Ten years ago, Ruth retired from her job to help take care of her grandchildren, Lindsay, now 10, and Patrick, who’s 12. Ruth’s daughter Susan is a nurse who works three days a week and has an unpredictable schedule. “She can work sometimes from six in the morning until ten at night,” says Ruth. The children’s father, Jerry, works a full day as well.

Ruth stepped in to fill in the childcare gap just weeks after Lindsay was born. She spends three days a week at the children’s home—sleeping there at night because she lives just far enough away that driving back and forth doesn’t makes sense. She’s been especially helpful to the family since Susan and Jerry separated several years ago.

How does Ruth spend her days?

During the school year, “I get them up, give them breakfast, pack their lunches and put them on the bus. Patrick goes first. He’s in middle school, so I’m not allowed to kiss him goodbye. Then Lindsay goes. I’m still allowed to give her a big hug and kiss.”

When the kids get home from school, Ruth often drives them to soccer practice or games. Then they do their homework, which she has to keep after them about. Then there’s dinner at 6:00, “no matter what.” Ruth believes it’s important to keep the children’s schedule consistent. “If Susan’s not home from work, I just start dinner so we can eat by six. I like to keep it like that for Patrick and Lindsay. If Susan comes home while I’m cooking, she’ll take over.”

Summer brings more work
Parents all over the country scramble to find childcare during the summer, and grandparents are often the first to step in. Ruth is no exception.

During the summer, “We go to the pool. We have kids over. A lot of children come to our house because their parents are working. I don’t mind, as long as they don’t get wild. The boys wrestle and get loud, and sometimes if they keep at it they get into a real fight. When things get out of control I get them all to play Bingo. I call out the numbers so I’m the one in charge.”

Have we mentioned yet that Ruth is 76?

Doesn’t Ruth get tired? Does she ever get bored?

“You know, I never used to get tired. People would always ask me that, and I really wasn’t tired. But since I’ve been 76, I do get a little tired. Part of it is that I don’t sleep as well at Susan’s house. The noises are different. I wake up a lot. Plus I know I have to get up at 6:30, so that’s in the back of my mind. I need to make the bed before I get the kids up.

“And I do get bored sometimes. I’m selling my condominium and looking for another one closer to Susan’s house. I need to pack. It’s a little hard to be at Susan’s when I have things I need to be doing at home. But I love to read, so I do a lot of that. And Susan has cable at her house, and I don’t. I love to watch cooking shows on cable.”

What about any health conditions that might make things harder?

“I’m really lucky,” says Ruth. “I have aches, but nothing that keeps me from doing anything. I think I might have arthritis, but I’ve never even mentioned it to my doctor. Sometimes my wrists ache, but I just take Aleve and the pain goes away. It really doesn’t bother me that much.”

Not a “pushover grandma”
Ruth disciplines Patrick and Lindsay when she’s alone with them. “I do discipline the kids,” she says.

Is there ever any tension about that between Ruth and Susan, the children’s mother?

“We’ve never had words,” Ruth says, “We can tell from each other’s attitudes that we need to keep our mouths shut. I try not to correct the kids when Sue’s home. I’m not a pushover grandma, but when Sue’s home, I leave the discipline to her.”

Advice for grandparents about babysitting
What would Ruth say to other grandparents out there who are considering doing something similar?

“Don’t do it if you don’t want to, because you’d be resentful. I adore doing it, and I feel fortunate to be part of their lives, especially now that Susan and Jerry have separated. I volunteered to do this. It was my idea. And Susan does a lot of nice little things for me. For instance, she knows I love braunschweiger, and she’ll get that for my lunch. It’s nice when I look in the refrigerator and see that there. And she always thanks me, every time I leave. Always. I know she appreciates it.

“I don’t regret any of this. We [she and her grandchildren] have a closer relationship.”

One suspects that even if Ruth did have any complaints, she wouldn’t admit it. But it’s also clear there’s no doubt in her mind that taking care of her grandchildren has made her life richer.

You might think that Ruth kicks back and relaxes on the days she doesn’t take care of Patrick and Lindsay. But no. She volunteers two other days a week. She cooks for an organization that delivers food to people who are HIV positive. And she volunteers at an assisted living facility once a week too.

Is it any wonder that she’s noticed she gets a little tired?

Some grandparents find it helpful to join a grandparent support group for those caring for grandchildren. Sharing your problems and solutions with other people in the same boat is highly valuable. To find a support group closest to you, visit the AARP Web site.

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