“Hi Dad! How are you? Good, good… How do you fancy looking after your darling grandchild tonight?”
Clunk. That’s it. Another Friday night spent having Play-doh shoved up your nostrils and reading the same story over and over again until even their teddies have fallen off the bed in a stupor. We love our grandkids dearly, but sometimes we catch ourselves guiltily wondering whether we might have been a bit rash about promising to look after them at any time.
So how do you draw a line between being the doting grandparent willing to move mountains if your little angels demanded it, and having your own life by making plenty of (child-free) plans?
When I was little, my own grandparents occupied both ends of the spectrum. One set lived just up the road and would come charging down – usually still in their slippers – if they heard the slightest whimper from me. The other pair would be very generous with their pocket money but spent the hour or two each month I visited them telling me not to play with the window blinds. Can you guess which ones I naturally gravitated to?
Of course, I recognised that both sets of grandparents loved me fiercely – I was the beloved and much-awaited first grandchild on either side – but the first ones were as much of a presence in my life as my mother and father. They were always willing to bundle me into a coat and take me out to the park, or read to me for hours, or let me stroke their (slightly traumatised) dog until all its hair was standing up the wrong way. Being young, I took them for granted completely. And that’s the way it should be.
OK, yes, we’ve had our turn at parenting and we did a pretty damned good job of it if we say so ourselves. We may be retired, or on the brink of wrapping up our working lives, and looking forward to the solace of the years ahead. Some of us have made plans for extensive travel, while others are dreaming up ways of blowing the kids’ inheritance.
But being a grandparent is a huge privilege and it’s up to us to provide a strong presence in our grandchildren’s lives without stepping on their mum and dad’s toes.
So when that phone call inevitably comes at about 3 o’clock this afternoon asking for some free babysitting this evening, I for one will take a deep breath and accept, safe in the knowledge that I have earned my stripes as a good grandparent.
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