We had both taken early retirement and were thoroughly enjoying it when our first grandson was born. It was a total joy to have time to spend with him, to spoil him – and his parents – and to babysit from time to time.
Then my daughter-in-law said she was going back to work, starting at two half-days a week, and without even discussing it with me, my husband announced that we would be delighted to childmind. To be totally honest, I hadn’t even considered it. My son and daughter-in-law are highly paid professionals and both have nurseries linked to their work, but they instantly said they’d be so much happier for their son to be with us.
I couldn’t say no and I thought it was quite sweet of my husband, so I rearranged a couple of mornings’ activities and to start with we did really enjoy ourselves. The three of us went to the play park, swimming or out for morning coffee and it was lovely. Then his little brother came along and I thought we’d have a break for a year as his mum was on maternity leave, but she liked having that couple of mornings alone with the new baby. Our daughters had their first babies a couple of years later and it was just assumed that we would childmind for them, too.
The problem is, if you’ve done it for one, you can’t refuse the others without causing upset, and our family all live relatively close by. We now have five grandchildren and we look after them all for different and overlapping times every week, so we only have one day completely clear and nearly all my retirement plans have gone up in smoke. We are only in our 60s and my visions of an energetic retirement and lots of hobbies have disappeared.
I find it exhausting and would like to cut back, but my husband loves the image of being the caring grandad, though his involvement started disappearing when the second one arrived and now I do most of it.
We’re both there in the morning when three are dropped off, but he very quickly shoots off to “walk the dog” or for “a quick game of golf” and often reappears only when it’s time to pick up the others from school. He magnanimously supervises homework – while reading the paper – while I feed small cranky people, organise snacks and start tidying up a sea of primary-coloured plastic toys. By the time they’re all gone it’s after 6pm and I am done for the day – sometimes I hardly have energy to watch a decent film or read a book.
Our family are always really grateful and are constantly buying us wine, flowers or a lovely meal out, but I feel that I don’t enjoy my grandchildren as much as I would if I wasn’t their childminder, as I have to be really organised with so many. My husband’s always saying to our family and friends, “Oh it’s the least we can do”, but he doesn’t do it.
I’ve tried to talk to him about it but I’m getting nowhere and I can’t broach the subject with my children without his back-up. To be fair, I don’t think they realise it all falls on me as he’s there when they drop off and pick up.
Now we’ve been told baby No 6 is on the way. Never mind cracking open the champagne: I could just cry.
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