Dear Dr. Linda,

I’m a grandma with four beautiful children. My husband died a few years ago so I’m thankful that I have my daughter living near me with her family. I feel very close to them and see them often. I get them off the bus, do their homework with them and seem to be on call 24/7. But my problem isn’t those things—it’s that I feel used. My daughter and son-in-law never include me in other things—like going out to dinner or the movies or occasionally on a vacation. In fact, they never invite me over for anything other than what I can do for them. Just last week my daughter was talking to me about the birthday party she was making for my granddaughter, but I’m not invited. Am I alone or do other grandparents feel used? There’s more to learning reading and math–there’s also learning how to treat others. Should I bring my feelings up to my daughter? We have a good relationship and I don’t want to ruin it. Used Grandma

Dear Grandma,

Thank you for sending me this email. Many people think that learning only takes place in school. But children are learning all the time and the most important people they learn from are their parents and grandparents. These are their role models from whom they pick up their values and manners and most of all how to be in relationships of all kinds, including between parent and child, parent and parent, child and child, etc. School teaches the basic skills children will need so that they can acquire knowledge, but parents and grandparents teach basic social skills so their children can function successfully in the world.

If you only “babysit” and do your grandchildren’s homework with them, then you probably are being used, but you’re allowing it to happen. Without realizing it, your daughter and son-in-law, like many other parents, are wrapped up in their own lives and for whatever reason don’t think of you until they need your services. If you don’t mind this role, then continue. But if you’re feeling used and would like to expand this role beyond being the hired help, then you have to do something about it. That’s up to you. Many people continue doing the same thing, complain to others about it, feel used, but do nothing to change the situation.

If you want things to change, then I suggest you do one or more of the following:

If you have an open and trusting relationship with your daughter, mention that you’d love to join them when they’re going somewhere or having a party at home. You may not be available, but it would be nice to be invited to a family outing. She may never have thought of it, figured you didn’t care or assumed something else entirely.

Don’t think you’re alone in feeling this way. In our culture, many families consider grandparents as babysitters or the people to turn to when you need an extra set of hands or a little extra money. In other cultures, grandparents are the ones children and grandchildren turn to for advice. They have lived the longest and therefore have experienced the most and hopefully have become wiser for it. Either way, grandparents have an important role to play in their grandchildren’s lives.

You can start changing things by initiating the outings, inviting your daughter and her family to dinner, and arranging to spend a day with your grandchildren at a museum or with the family at an amusement park. 

But even if you continue only to spend time with your grandchildren in the afternoons, remember that it won’t always be that way. Establish relationships with them—don’t wait for your daughter to make it so. Talk to them about things other than homework—world events, past family history, a book you think they would like. Become a role model, not only for your grandchildren but also for your daughter and son-in-law.

Dr. Linda

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