I’ve come to realise that grandparents who help out with a huge chunk of your childcare, babysit on tap and whisk your children away on holiday is akin to an actual lottery win. Unfortunately I am not a lottery winner. But I appear to be surrounded by lottery winners though, and I suffer – badly – from what’s become known as Grandparent Envy and it’s a very real thing.
Feeling jealous is not something I’m used to – but if I hear of fellow parents having two sets of functioning grandparents, I turn into a green-eyed monster. This is an alien concept before you have children as you naively believe everything is going to be perfect. When pregnant with my first child, I had plans to abandon my career and become a full-time earth mother. It quickly became apparent I wasn’t wired that way and happily returned to work when he was 10 months (don’t get me wrong, I still cried on the first day back). It was then that I entered the world of nursery fees, which, once number two son came along, was more than our monthly mortgage payment. How do people manage, I wondered, realising my elaborate holiday plans would have to be reigned in. It didn’t take me long to find out.
“Oh my mum has her for 2 days, then my mum-in-law has her another day,” one parent told me as I forced a smile, expressing how lucky she was. “I work part time and my parents look after him three days a week,” another tells me. “So when he’s in nursery, I treat myself to a trip to the spa or hair salon. It’s important to have me-time, right?”
The forced smile takes a huge amount of effort. My me-time involved going to the supermarket alone. My children do have grandparents. Who love them, in fact, and are very generous on birthdays and Christmas. But due to a combination of illness and distance, we have never had any practical help from them, though my mother-in-law did babysit once about five years ago.
I can’t help but smile though, when these lottery winners complain that their parents have ‘dared’ to book a holiday. “It’s going to cost me an absolute fortune!” they wail, in frustration at the injustice of it all. Another problem – which I acknowledge can be annoying – are those grandparents who can only handle ‘one child at a time’. They would never admit to having a favourite, but there’s almost an unspoken agreement over which child they’ll look after – don’t even think about suggesting they take both! Or all three! So if you are one of the lucky ones that has regular, free help – please make sure you appreciate them. Say thank you and allow them the luxury of a term-time holiday, they deserve it.
BY CATHERINE LAWLER