Sara R is a professional freelance editor whose services are always in demand. By five a.m, you will find her at her computer, but her "real" job begins around seven when Hannah, her two-year-old granddaughter, calls for "Me-Ma."
Sara got divorced around the same time Hannah was born. Her daughter suggested mom move to Connecticut when she sold her house because she could no longer afford the upkeep.
"Being close to my daughter and son-in-law seemed like a good idea at the time. As an older divorcee, I felt I had lost more than the younger women. It was going to be tougher finding a man and learning to live alone after being married 30 plus years. I needed the support of family, and I also needed to cut down on expenses. The idea was to move in temporarily with my kids."
Sara enjoyed the time she spent with her grandchild. Caring for the little one got her mind off her troubles. When her daughter went back to work, it seemed natural that she step up to the plate until they found a responsible babysitter.
"I was nervous about making the commitment, but once I got used to the idea, I realized babysitting my granddaughter full time is what I wanted to do."
Approximately 16 percent of people over the age of 65 in the U.S. live with their children. As a member of the household, seniors are likely to assume the taxing and rewarding responsibility of caring for their grandkids as a way of helping out.
Certainly there are advantages on both sides when the caregiver is a loving grandparent who happens to be divorced and trying to re-establish his or her life. A grandparent has the grandchildren's best interests at heart. But let's face it -- the job is not for everyone. There are going to be many hurdles. Roles and expectations must be clear-cut if the arrangement is going to work.
Here are some tips, should you decide to apply for the job:
Be Realistic. The kids' needs come first. Sacrifices have to be made. In the example above, Sara has learned to sandwich her work and social engagements around Hannah's schedule. It also means going backwards to the time when you were raising your own children. Only times have changed and you have been out of the loop. Then there is the question of pay. It may seem awkward to expect a salary for babysitting, especially if room and board are taken care of.
You Need Your Privacy. Sara is fortunate that her children can offer her separate living accommodations. At the end of the day, she shuts the door and her children take over. "There is no question that my kids want me to be a part of their life, but I explained right from the get-go that I need my own space." It is important to carve out some area that you can call your own when you are sharing living quarters.
Establish Boundaries. It is easy to fall into the pattern of being too available and become resentful if you are doing too much. Define tasks and set limits. Will your responsibilities also include shopping and meal preparation? As a single woman, Sara wants her evenings and weekends free to socialize with her friends. When there is a special occasion, she asks that her daughter and son-in-law give her plenty of notice so she can adjust her plans.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open. A grandparent who assumes responsibility for a grandchild is accountable to the parents. Sara has to know their rules and try to abide by them. "It's not the same as when you had your own children and you laid down the law. Discipline can be a problem if parents and grandparent are not on the same page," Sara explains. "Trust is a biggie. I told my kids, 'Look, I'm always with Hannah. I need to have some authority and I need you to back me up.'" She also recognizes that parenting styles are different today, and Sara has had to be flexible.
Networking to Avoid Loneliness. Sara has her work and speaks regularly to her clients. "I am too busy," she says, "to feel lonely." But many older caregivers who take care of young children often complain about social isolation. They may find themselves spending time with much younger parents who have very different ideas about child rearing. One solution is to join a senior caregiver support group; another is connecting with other Granny Nannies on websites like Grandparents.com.
Staying in Good Shape. Sara has a back problem that she admits has been exacerbated by lifting Hannah and her gear in and out of the car. Sara exercises whenever she has a chance, which is not that often. She laughs, "This Christmas, my gift from the kids is five sessions with a masseuse."
Staying Positive. There are days Sara looks back longingly to when she was happily married, raising her own kids and living in her own home. There are also days she feels like she has gotten a second chance since the divorce because now she is a part of Hannah's life.
As for the future? Sara smiles. "There's another grandchild on the way."