I know I'm in a small minority when I say I'm NOT excited to be a grandparent. I've never really liked children, and used to be determined against having any of my own. But mainly because my husband wanted, we did have a child. He was very involved and together we managed to raise a well balanced son. Looking back, I feel my main goal was to have a balanced life even with a child, and to raise him to be independent (of me, basically). This worked out well as a parenting philosophy, although I suspect my interests and freedom were really in the forefront.

When our son didn't live with us anymore, we continued to have a meaningful relationship with him - with the proverbial good fences. My husband and I retired early and went back to travelling, which we love. Our son is now 27 and married with a child on its way. He's already talking about what a wonderful grandmother I'll be, how much I can play with the child, and how they're thinking of moving closer to our house so we get more time with each other during the weekends. From the looks of it, he's counting on me to be really hands on in helping them raise the child. His wife's parents are not in the picture anymore, so that leaves us to be the only grandparents. (I don't believe that not having a constant presence of grandparents will affect kids in anyway. I grew up without any - they'd all passed or lived 100s of miles away - and never felt like I missed out on anything. But that's a debate for another day.)

I don't want to break his heart, or his wife's, but it worries me that yet again I have to help raise a baby. It is exhausting! I'm still not a fan of kids, and even when I find them adorable, they quickly wear me out. Only this time, I'll have responsibilities without the "power" to discipline them - I'm not even sure I want that disciplinarian role. I do not look forward to spending all my weekends with the baby, which is what I fear will happen if they move closer to our place. I don't know what this would end up doing to our travelling plans. I just feel like once again, I'm getting into taking care of babies when I'd rather not.

What I can do is play with the baby for some time, babysit for some time, and if asked, advise or help in any other way. "Some time" is key word here, because like I said, babies wear me out soon and I'm not even young anymore. I'm more comfortable with kids over 5 or 6, when I can actually have a conversation with them. I understand that if I'm not in my grandchild's life now, I may not be when they're older. I guess I'm ok with that...

I don't know if this makes me horribly selfish, but that is not what my question is about. Its about:

  • How do I convey my feelings to my son (and his wife)?
  • And when? Should I set expectations early on, or wait till it starts to get on my nerves and then tell them exactly what it is that I can't handle?

My husband is ambivalent - he doesn't want to give up on our personal time and space either, but at the same isn't worried about having to take care of the baby. We've talked about it, he doesn't seem to think one will be affected by the other and generally thinks that we'll just cross the bridge when we come to it. Im 57 and my husband is 58, if its relevant.

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    this doesn't make you selfish at all. it's your life, spend it how you want.
    – user428517
    May 12, 2017 at 17:23
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    I don't know why anyone ever wants to have kids. When you have them, they are awesome and you love them but basically you're on house arrest for at least like 10 years or more. You're 57, so you've already done your time on house arrest. If you aren't up to being on house arrest again, just get your traveling back on and let your son know you'll be around when you're around and it's his turn to serve his time. Anyone with kids should know what they're asking of people when they ask them to look after them. I cant imagine anyone not understanding
    – Kai Qing
    May 12, 2017 at 18:25
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    Reading that 1st sentence "I don't know why anyone ever wants to have kids" on parenting SE made me chuckle. That is kinda how I feel though. May 12, 2017 at 18:41
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    Yeah, and I also say it in a guiltless way. I have kids and they're awesome, but holy hell does it come with a wrath of inescapable obligation and inconveniences so massive you'd wonder why some people seem so eager to rush into this. Admittedly it gets easier once they can talk, so now I'm good, but the first... oh, 4 years... I can't believe I lived through it. I might give that speech to your son if you're only comfortable once they can communicate. Maybe babysitting should be minimal during the diaper season. It would be for me. I aint never touchin another diaper so long as I breathe
    – Kai Qing
    May 12, 2017 at 23:35
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    It is not unreasonable to say that you cannot be part of raising the child in a way of off-loading the parents, but you will be happy to have them visit (which I think you will). Then when either they or you are tired, visits over! In this way it is very clear that boundaries are respected. If they want a baby sitter with responsibilities, hire one. You are entitled to this being a positive experience. May 13, 2017 at 9:19

5 Answers 5


I have small children now, but I can imagine that I will feel the same when I become a grandparent.

When I had my first baby, I assumed that my mom will take care of him. I asked her, and she said yes. Maybe she didn't realize what it meant or truly overestimated herself, but it was obvious in a couple of weeks that she was way over her head. We hired a nanny, it did not work out so well (various reasons), and we placed the kid in a day care, and have been happy.

Since you seem to be clear, it will help them plan if you are frank with them. Maybe meet only your son and ask what their plans are, and tell him what you can offer. Maybe you can supervise a nanny, maybe you can drive the baby to/from day-care, maybe you can offer an occasional evening/weekend when you are around, maybe you can offer dinner one or two times a week, maybe you just like to visit occasionally.

Since a baby is involved, let there be no assumptions on either side. Have that talk ASAP.

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    Certainly like the idea of telling them what I CAN do, puts a positive spin on the whole thing. I'll make sure I focus on that, while being clear about my limitations. May 12, 2017 at 15:21
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    Would probably also be helpful to say you can't, instead of don't want to spend a very significant amount of time with children. Makes it sound a lot less personal, as it's essentially a health reason, May 13, 2017 at 18:25
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    No. Don't say "can't" when you mean "don't want to". No matter how you put it, you can't make this NOT be personal. You probably will hurt your son, no matter how you put it, if he expected you to take more of an interest than you're willing to give. But that's much better than him wondering why you never visit, and him trying to keep involving you in his kids' lives and keep being hurt by you turning him down time and again. May 14, 2017 at 23:20

Kudos to you for doing such a good job of raising your son that he doesn't realize what a chore it was. I hope my kids feel the same. I'm in the same situation as you; being around children is emotionally draining to me. It took my husband ten years to talk me into becoming a mother. I love both my children, but being around them is often like fingernails on a chalkboard. I don't like that about myself, but there it is.

I don't know if this will be helpful, but I wanted to share an experience. I have a good friend who I had lunch with one day, not in the presence of his children or mine. Somehow we got on the subject of children, and I told him about my struggles to attach to my children, and to raise them, in the absence of any maternal instincts whatsoever. As he listened, he got a very pensive look on his face. Then he said "You know...you've just given me a different perspective on something that has been really upsetting me for some time. My mother never took an interest in spending time with her only grandson and it always hurt me and made me angry and resentful. But, now, after hearing things from your perspective I can see a lot of parallels between you and her. She told me that children exhaust her and I never believed her, I thought she was making excuses because she didn't like him. I thought...all women love babies and how could you not want to be around your own children or grandchildren? But now...I see that maybe I need to not be angry at her for just being the way she is."

My personal thought is that you should definitely set boundaries as to how much you are able to do. And you need to be frank about them. But be careful about how you phrase it. Don't tell them that your dislike children, or that they irritate you. (I can be disturbingly frank about my shortcomings and it caused my brother and his wife to change their will so that I wasn't listed as guardian of their children if something happened to them. Not sure if I should count that as a good thing or not).

Instead, explain to them that children exhaust you, and you aren't sure how much "baby time" you can tolerate. Tell them you want to help as much as you can, but you don't want to get yourself in a situation where being with your grandchildren becomes a source of stress instead of a pleasure. Enlist their help in finding your limits. Keep them engaged.

You should also make it clear that you love your grandchildren, even if you can't be with them as much as you'd like. Send emails asking about them. Pick up little things at the store and bring them around ("I picked up this cute little hat, when would be a good time to bring it around..?") BTW, I find that children are more enjoyable in small doses, and if you do a lot of drop-bys they may be less inclined to pester you to come over for extended visits. Take pictures of your grandchildren and put them up in your house. Post them to Facebook. You need to make it clear that the "problem" is with you, not with your son's children. It's better to have sympathy than resentment or hurt feelings.

And don't be afraid to lean on your husband when you are exhausted. My hubby, who is a very understanding man, used to ask me if I needed some "closet" time, and if I said yes he would take the children out of the house for a few hours. We call it closet time because there were times when I would have to quite literally go into our dark, quiet, walk-in closet and play Enya to myself for an hour before I could come back out to face the demands of motherhood.

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    We are all different that doesn't make us wrong, or right for that matter. Great answer.
    – WRX
    May 12, 2017 at 17:02
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    Minor nitpicky: "...want to help as much as you can...", "...even if you can't be with them as much as you'd like..." seems ?passive aggressive to me. If she wanted to do/be there more, she could/would. To say it one way and behave another is confusing; better to say nothing at all than that (imo). May 12, 2017 at 21:46
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    @anongoodnurse, there are many facets of wanting. To say that if you want to do something, you would, is not practical. We all want to be the best parents that we can be. We want to be infinitely patent, constantly forgiving, models of good habits and behavior. Are we? To recognize what you should be but cannot is, imo, the sign of a person who strives to know and understand themselves. And a huge part of that is learning to analyze one's self with forgiveness. May 15, 2017 at 16:53
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    That is different; those are impossibilities. "I want to be perfect" is an impractical thing; "I want to see your child more, but I'm too busy" is a kind of deception. I'm sorry you didn't see the difference I was referring to. May 15, 2017 at 16:56
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    You're not taking into account that communication is more than just the words that you say. It includes the intent that the speaker has, and the likely reactions and associations that those hearing the words will have. If someone says "I don't enjoy being with your kids", the translation that the listener is likely to get is "there's something wrong with your kids that causes me to not want to be with them". It's important to make it clear the reason she doesn't want to spend as much time with her grandchildren is not because of them, but because of her. May 15, 2017 at 21:21

You are allowed to feel how you feel. Grandparents are not automatic baby sitters. If you feel the need to explain that to your son, then do so. My own mother often told me that if I had children, she wasn't going to babysit unless it was a dire emergency. There was no malice -- she simply was never really cut out to be a mum and let our nanny do the parenting.

My mum loved me and my brother. She wanted only the best for us and she paid for us to have it. There are different styles of parenting and grandparenting all around you. While you or I might not make the same choices doesn't make us right or wrong. It's okay to be who you are and you've earned your lifestyle.

As for how to tell them? "We're thrilled for you, and we'll still be travelling."

I am sure you'll love the baby and enjoy spending some time with your little grand. Just don't cut off your nose before you find out how you actually feel when that little one smiles up at you. Don't use words like 'never'. However, it is fair to say you are not signing up for childcare or babysitting.

On edit:
I think it is fair that if your son and dil express that they hope you'll provide childcare or babysitting, you say that you will when you are able to, but you still intend to travel and entertain and be involved in all your usual activities. You are not signing up to be the childcare provider. They need that information, because they have to sort that out. I am saying don't share your lack of enthusiasm until you know how you feel once you've met the baby.

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    Thank you! After reading your answer, I wonder if my 1st paragraph is really relevant at all. I think I've just tried to explain myself in it.. But like you say, "I'm allowed to feel how I feel". I'm new here, if you think it's indeed irrelevant, I'll remove that part. May 12, 2017 at 15:13
  • I think it is relevant because some people can only see it from their own perspective. Your perspective is perhaps educational for a person who cannot wait to be a parent or a grandparent. My then four year-old's goal in life was to be a "granny"... at sixteen, she still feels that way.
    – WRX
    May 12, 2017 at 15:17
  • And if I understand you correctly, your answer to "when" is that I am to wait and see how things pan out before I really stress upon not wanting to be involved? May 12, 2017 at 15:18
  • I think it is fair that if your son and dil express that they hope you'll provide childcare or babysitting, you say that you will when you are able to, but you still intend to travel and entertain and be involved in all your usual activities. You are not signing up to be the childcare provider. They need that information, because they have to sort that out. I am saying don't share your lack of enthusiasm until you know how you feel once you've met the baby. I'll edit this in.
    – WRX
    May 12, 2017 at 15:21
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    Ah, that gave me some additional clarity. Separating enthusiasm (or the lack of it) from what Im actually capable of doing for them. Only the latter being real information that they need and can use, to plan ahead. May 12, 2017 at 15:31

I had an answer starting to shape up in my mind until I read this:

What I can do is play with the baby for some time, babysit for some time, and if asked, advise or help in any other way.

Oh. You're just a normal grandma.

What you describe is perfectly fine and 100% normal. Nobody (at least where I live) would expect you to do anything more, if at all.

It does not take much to not change diapers. Just don't do it! They will "get it" right away. Don't carry the newborn around all day. Take it, cuddle it, and give it back to daddy.

There is a magic word, it's called "no". If things start to grow over your head, any they call for you when you cannot do it anymore, you just say "no".

In my experience, grandparents often are just as busy, if not more so, than working people. Sure, they have different kinds of things to do, but that does not matter. When you are busy, then you are busy; you can tell your son that and he will get it. You are not a natural born baby sitter!

Keep up the healthy distance you built up between you and your child, and all will be fine. The newborn is not yours, it is theirs. Cuddle it/him/her occasionally, read a children story once in a while, and get over your fear that bad things will happen.


In most western countries the role grandparents is very different from that of parents in terms of obligations and rights: the parents are obliged to take care of their children and support them financially (legally and morally), they decide in what manner to bring up their children, make educational choices, etc. Grandparents have none of these obligations and rights. Importantly, it is the parents who decide to have children, and they have to assume the responsibility for this choice. The grandparents can always say that the choice was not theirs, that they want no responsibility for this, and that they prefer to be minimally involved in life of their grandchildren or not to be involved at all.

On the other hand, minimizing one's involvement into the ones' grandchildrens' life is also a choice, implying a responsibility. Being a biological grandparent does not give one a right to be involved in raising the child or even having access to them. Even when the relationships between the parents or the grandparents are not hostile, or simply a consequence of objective circumstances - such as geographical séparation - the parents may have justified reservations about entrusting their child (or allowing access to) to people that barely know this child. Indeed, how would you feel about an unrelated adult buying your child presents, spending time with them without parental supervision or even taking your child to their house, possibly sleeping with them in the same room or even the same bad.

In other words, grandparenting, to a large extent is about the relationship between the grandparents and the parents (rather than the grandparents and the grandchildren) - it is continuation of parenting.

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