To Grandmother's block we go?
June 4, 2009 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Trying to decide just how close to move to our kid's (very enthusiastic) grandparents. If you've experienced the childrearing-with-nearby-grands situation (as kid, grand OR parent), how did it work out? Any advice on encouraging involvement while still maintaining boundaries?

My family (me, husband, infant daughter) will soon be relocating for work reasons. Conveniently, this will also put us in the same area where my parents live. We're currently in the process of house-hunting, and most of what we've seen falls into one of two categories: either very very close (5-10min) to the folks, or moderately far away (~35-40min).

Both of my parents will be retired within 5 years and have expressed interest in babysitting, which is a definite plus. I'm a little concerned, though, because my mom, while awesome, is a pretty dominant person, not great on dialogue, and has already started to be mildly critical of my parenting choices (nothing major; just your garden-variety lecturing about how the baby would sleep so much better if I'd just put her on her stomach, how I'm buying into Internet hoohah by opting for phthalate-free baby items, etc.). I'm wondering just how complicated it will be to keep a loving and open relationship with the grands while still maintaining my nuclear family as a separate entity and emphasizing to everyone that Mr. B and I have the final authority as parents.

Since geographical proximity will obviously matter a lot in how this plays out, I'd love some perspectives from grandparents, children or parents who've either loved or hated having the generations living very close to one another. (Obviously, a lot of this will depend on individual personalities, but I'm hoping others' experiences will alert me to considerations that might not have occurred to me.) Bonus points if anyone can speak to the boundaries issue, but really, I'll take commentary on any part of the situation, pros and cons alike. Thanks!!
posted by Bardolph to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
We have a toddler son and no family nearby. My family is a 6-7 hour drive away and hubby's family is a 2+ hour drive away. It's so hard not having family in the area. Yes, I wish we had the free babysitting but it's more than that. It's having another place to go that's still "home" but not the home you live in, when it's raining or snowing for weeks on end. It's being able to list someone as the emergency contact on a school form and knowing that your child is as important to them as she is to you. It's being able to go to a doctor's appointment without making complicated arrangements. It's sharing the everyday moments that make life rich, not just the religious holidays and birthdays but Valentine's Day and Grandparents Day at school and baseball games and piano recitals and just everything. It's having that continuity of life through the generations that we miss. We see my family every couple of months but for me it's not enough. We can't move right now but I'm working on it.

I'd opt for the closer house and just do to your mom what I do to my MIL: smile when she offers an unsolicited opinion, say something innocuous like, "oh is that right" and then ignore it. Or shut her down by saying, "yes, we considered that and we've decided to do this." I also occasionally ask her advice about something so that she'll feel like she's contributing. (But I never take it).

Good luck whatever you decide. I'm jealous you get to live by your parents.
posted by Kangaroo at 6:31 PM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't have kids, but my parents live walking distance from my brother and his kids. I also grew up within 2 miles of my dad's parents. So far it's worked out well in both situations.

When I was growing up it was a nice quick easy option to have someone else pick us up from school if need be, drop us off there for an hour while something needed to be done, or any other duty that might take another set of hands. It also gave me a great relationship with my grandparents that didn't exist with my mom's parents who I only saw on trips to go visit.

AFAIK my brother's case is much the same way. They send the kids over to "Gom and Pop's" place when either of them needs to get get some work done or just need a nap.
posted by cmfletcher at 6:49 PM on June 4, 2009

We moved closer to our families when our first born was about 18 months old and I am soooo glad we did. Having reliable babysitters nearby improved our lives greatly and watching my kids form tight bonds with their grandparents is fun. There were a few power struggles, but I eventually learned to let the petty things slide (bedtimes, junk food) and only battle for the things that were life-threatening (like making sure the car seat was placed in the back of their sedan, not the front seat of their pick-up). I found that the phrase, "Humor me" was really effective. "Yes, I may be buying into the internet hooha, but please...just humor me and use the bottles I brought, OK?"
posted by jrossi4r at 6:59 PM on June 4, 2009

Well, our children's grandparents wouldn't know a boundary if it fell in their laps, so for our sanity we've always maintained a buffer zone of 1 hour by car. No "pop-ins" are possible, it's still close enough to enjoy each other, yet far enough away that they can't enmesh themselves in everything.

So if I had your decision to make I would be choosing the 35-40 minutes away area.

As for my childhood, my one grandmother lived 5 streets over and I saw her almost daily. My other grandmother lived 3 states away and I saw her a couple times a year. I was far and away closer to the one that I saw less. Distance does not prevent a wonderful relationship, just as proximity does not create it.
posted by agentwills at 7:06 PM on June 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Growing up, from about age 11 up through high school, my grandfather picked my brother and I up from school every day and watched us for a couple of hours until my parents came home. Sure, it was partially a way for him to sneak an occasional cigarette away from my grandmother's gaze, and at the time we didn't need much watching and we chafed from time-to-time at having him around, but now that he is gone, I realize just how important that closeness to him was. We learned a lot from him and from his radically different upbringing that still serves me to this day. I often find myself telling my daughter little facts I picked up from him, and it really makes me (and her) happy to know I learned that from Grandfather.

It's an excellent opportunity you've got here, and while the relationship between parent and grandparent can be tricky, it is well worth figuring out a way to make it work. As a parent of an 8 year old, with no family in the area, I can't tell you the amount of personality disorder I would put up with to have access to reliable and free child care.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 PM on June 4, 2009

I love my family too but with a dominant and critical mother. I live about 45 mins away from my parents and that distance is great for me. My sister is about 15 mins away and she is much more dependent on them and they are all up in her business because of the proximity. My nana lived in my house growing up and raised me while my mother was working. I loved it and have very fond memories of her and what she taught me (although she too was pretty domineering to my mother). Even if you are living close you don't need to see each other everyday, it depends on how comfortable you are in setting and enforcing boundaries with dear old mom.
posted by saucysault at 7:28 PM on June 4, 2009

We have a six-month old son. My wife's mom is living with us for the time being to help out, which is great, but has some of the issues you've brought up. She clearly loves her grandson, but has some different ideas than we do about parenting, mostly around structure and safety things. (I'm for it, she thinks that because her kids turned out fine without worrying so much about everything, we're being overly cautious.)

I think Kangaroo and jrossi4r have it - if the grandparents just offer an opinion that you don't agree with, just say 'oh, thanks' or 'that's interesting' and move on. If they push it, or do something that you really don't agree with, then you have to let them know that you're the parent and they need to respect that. Remembering that it was about my child's best interest and that I needed to do what was necessary to provide for him helped with the unpleasant conflict stuff. I'm also working on choosing my battles and letting the small stuff go, which is important. You can also use the pediatrician as a bad guy if necessary. ("he insists that we have Junor sleep on his back.")

One of the most important things anyone told me before our son arrived was: Children can never have too many people who love them. Try to come at it from that point of view and make it about ahat's best for your child as opposed to what's easiest for you.
posted by chbrooks at 8:31 PM on June 4, 2009

35-40 minutes is not the easiest number for babysitting emergencies, and for just an hour babysitting it's sort of a long trip. I'm not sure you can solve boundary issues with geography alone anyway; at some point you have to put your foot down.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:32 PM on June 4, 2009

As a grandparent who lives nearby and sees her grandkids often, one of the issues we dealt with early on was discipline. We finally settled on the plan that when the parents are around, they do the disciplining (unless the kids are doing something that constitutes a danger to life or limb or valuable antiques) but when I am babysitting, I basically set my own rules for what I allow and don't allow. That gets us past, "But mommy lets me!"

I always check before giving any kind of medicine, even over the counter stuff unless I've been given specific instructions in advance. In general I try to follow what they are allowed to eat or not eat, but I finally convinced my daughter that at Nana's house, it's okay sometimes to be spoiled a little.

My biggest advice is to pick your battles...yes, the baby will always be in the car seat when the car is moving and no they cannot have diet Coke in the baby bottle. But allow the grandparents to bend the rules a little bit because, hey, that's what grandparents are for and free babysitting is hard to find.

I get a lot of joy from spending time with my grandkids without the parents there because it gives us the chance to develop our own relationship and for me to see a different personality in them than what I usually see when their parents are around.
posted by tamitang at 9:18 PM on June 4, 2009

I've lived close to my grandparents most of my life. They were often like second parents to me. Going to their house for a sleepover was a treat for me and my sister since we could stay up half an hour later and we each got a can of fago red pop with dinner. I realized many years later that it was a treat for my parents since they got a night alone once in a while.

It would obviously depend on your family and if grandma and grandpa are willing to defer to your rules for raising the kids. But, speaking as someone who has always been in close proximity to my (large almost stereotypically Italian-American) extended family, I can't imagine living without constantly being surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. We lived maybe 20 min away by car, and I remember as a child being jealous of my cousins who were two blocks over from them.

My grandfather died about five years ago, I don't think more than a couple days go by without me missing him or remembering some happy memory from when he was around. I'm fortunate that I have so many memories of him. I make a point of seeing my grandmother at least once a week, and love that we can now also relate to each other as adults. One of the high points of being laid off is we now have a regular lunch day, and I can help her take care of things around her house she's no longer able to manage (under the guise of me needing something to do since I'm so bored without a job and just love sweeping floors of course)

My boyfriend recently lost one of his grandmothers, and remarked after that what hurt the most was feeling like he never really knew her since he saw her a couple times a year due to distance, and now it was too late. I think seeing cousins who grew up in that area also reinforced that they had a closeness to their grandmother he had missed out on. I hadn't really thought about it before, since my experience was so different, but I think I was very fortunate.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:19 PM on June 4, 2009

The 35-40 minutes doesn't sound *too* far away -
yeah, maybe too long for very short-term babysitting, and a problem for 'emergency' babysitting, but definately close enough to go for say, Sunday dinner, and send your daughter to stay for the night or weekend when she is older.

I clicked on the 'read-more' thinking "Closer!" because I had a great relationship with my grandparents, and stayed with them most weekends and holidays, but - they *were* 45 mins away and we still had this close relationship, so the extra 20-25 minutes is not such a problem, and might be worth it for your independence.

Distance may indeed, make the heart grow fonder, and it means you won't be tempted into the constant emergency-babysitting which (not saying this would necessarily happen) I have seen to lead to resentment on both sides.
posted by Elysum at 11:06 PM on June 4, 2009

35-40 minutes away was what I grew up with. I saw my grandparents every weekend (but no my mother's parents as they lived overseas). It was great. Close enough to be close, but far enough to make every Saturday special. I should add, my grandparents were my only other relatives close by, everyone else lived on the other side of the world. My grandparents, however, didn't get called in for appointments and babysitting etc because my mother was a SAHM. So we had a lot of fun times.

My sister in law on the other hand, has my mother in law look after her daughter two-three times a week, and she actually just moved a little further away and is now about 40 minutes drive away. It works out ok because they drop her off on the way to work and they mostly have set days for care but whenever the baby is sick and can't go to day care, MIL takes on extra days. It's a very different relationship than the one I had with my grandparents - a less carefree one, more of a parent relationship.
posted by wingless_angel at 2:05 AM on June 5, 2009

One of the children chiming in here. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, and my maternal grandmother and my dad's father passed around the same time when I was too young to really remember them. Once my paternal grandfather passed, his wife, my only surviving grandparents, moved to within minutes of our home. I spent a lot of time with her, and learned a lot of valuable things, from practical cooking to family history my parents would have never thought of to mention. I value the time I had with her, and the advice she gave me. Once you get into the preteen and teen years, you get the parent-hate bug and are more likely to listen to your grandparents, but they still have your child's best interest at heart. She may be a little nitpicky and in disagreement about the little things in your child's life, but that's insignificant enough that it isn't a reason to deprive them of getting to spend as much time with them as possible while they're still around. Let her do things her way when she babysits for you, and you can do things the way you like when your daughter is back with you. When she's old enough to understand, you can just explain to her that some people do things in different ways, but you and her grandmother are working as a team to care for her, as opposed to letting her think that you are two opposing sides. Your mom won't be around forever; let your daughter get to know her and love her while the opportunity is still available. I'm very glad we lived close by- it gave me many wonderful experiences I would never have had otherwise.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 2:06 AM on June 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Grandparent chiming in: unless you have serious issues with your parents (which it doesn't sound like you do, just the usual nitpicking), I'd say closer is better. We live five minutes from the grandkids, which means we get to do a lot of babysitting and they can show up on bike rides and spend lots of time playing in our yard (larger than theirs), and it also means they get plenty of exposure to older people who love them immensely and share different things with them. When I was a kid I loved my grandparents a lot (I got my hat habit from Daddy Joe), and I wish I'd gotten to spend more time with them; my younger brother recently sent me a bunch of old letters from our parents' house, and I discover that my grandparents were nuts about me (and later my brothers) and wished they could spend more time around us. Like Glitter Ninja says: Your mom won't be around forever; let your daughter get to know her and love her while the opportunity is still available. The stuff that irritates you now will seem utterly irrelevant later on; the love and sharing will endure.
posted by languagehat at 6:18 AM on June 5, 2009

Speaking on behalf of my sister, who lives less than a rural concession away from one set of grand parents and about 10 minutes from the other set. One set understands reasonable boundaries, the other set, not so much. The best defence for the nitpicking is to learn the ancient technique of smile-and-nod. For the invasions of privacy ("I happened to be driving by, and..."), the smile-and-"lovely-to-see-you-but-we're-just-stepping-out-now".

Both my sister and I grew up two days' drive from our own grandparents, and we appreciate the closeness of the parental units to the sproglings. I think your decision revolves around how well you are able to let the minor annoyances of day-to-day interactions with your folks slide off your back. Then select house location accordingly.

Good luck!
posted by LN at 7:06 AM on June 5, 2009

When the kids are older it might be nice to have grandparents close enough to ride bikes to.
posted by davextreme at 8:46 AM on June 5, 2009

Trust me - 30-40 minutes is absolutely PERFECT for creating the relationship and maintaining the boundaries you want and need. Perfect. Get that house. I have been in both situations and the slight distance is exactly what you want, based on your description.
posted by RajahKing at 9:37 AM on June 5, 2009

I've been the mom in your situation, only my mother-in-law was the potential troublemaker. When our daughter was born, until she was 6, we lived 5 minutes away from the in-laws. And even though my mother-in-law would drop snarky asides about my parenting, having them that close was a godsend. We didn't use them a lot as emergency babysitters, but just knowing we could was such a relief.

I did have to put my foot down a little w/r/t boundaries, like no coming over while we're gone and leaving organic baby food and ironed shirts. Yeah, they were trying to be nice (and probably thought I was totally worthless as a mom and wife), but I didn't want to feel judged about that stuff while dealing with an infant and a new marriage and working full-time. That was a little awkward at first, but they learned to understand that our little family needed our own space.

My daughter is 13 now, and though we now live a half hour away, she still sees her grandma and grandpa often, and they have a great relationship. Plus they've done things for her that my husband and I never had time for or could afford.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:48 AM on June 5, 2009

I grew up about two blocks away from my maternal grandparents. They were almost like a second set of parents: we ate dinner at their house frequently, watched old movies together after dinner, played in their backyard and went swimming in their neighbors' pool every summer, dropped by whenever other family (big Irish Catholic clan) arrived in town, etc. Once my siblings and I started to attend a school too far to walk to, my grandparents were the ones who drove us to school most days. My grandma probably saw more of my soccer games than either parent. We celebrated every holiday with them. This isn't to say we never did things without them (we did all the time!), but that they were really part of our lives. I call my grandparents weekly, these days, and in general we have a much closer relationship than most kids do with their grandparents. My paternal grandparents lived halfway across the country, and we saw them once a year (and talked occasionally on the phone), but I never had that kind of relationship with them. I loved them, but I didn't know them very well.

It's not always easy, of course; my grandma tends to take charge, and tends to try to tidy things up without much regard for our organisational schemes, and I know that that was stressful for my mother. She also felt that as a recently-divorced mother who was struggling to get back into the work world, she was too dependent on her parents. I'm not sure how much conflict there was over child-rearing decisions, but by the time I was old enough to remember things, my family must have worked things out. Despite the occasional stress and disagreements, I don't think any of us wish things had been arranged differently.
posted by ubersturm at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2009

I grew up with my maternal grandparents living in the same neighborhood, less than 15-minutes walking.

I don't remember specific things when I was really little, but I know I would walk to their house after school every Tuesday when I was in elementary school, and my brother would already be there because of half day kindergarten. We loved it. We played board games, and did puzzles. If it was the right season we'd help "mow the lawn" with the old fashioned push mowers and then play croquet as well as we could in the small back yard that was full of fruit trees and my grandfather's flowers.

Sometimes I would go with my grandmother on bike rides to visit her friends or her sister who also lived in the neighborhood. Other times I would just do my homework or read while I watched her make supper - or pies! (She made good use from all of those fruit trees!)

We had Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve at their house, with all of my cousins and aunts and uncles who also lived in the area. Sometimes we'd have sleepovers and get to stay up late watching Alfred Hitchcock Presents and playing Yatzee and Uno... They even bought a ping-pong table for the basement.

My parents went to Hawaii for their 25th anniversary and my grandmother stayed with us so that they could go without us kids. (Which they wouldn't have been able to afford anyway.)

In 1999, my grandfather went to a veteran's home, and in 2000 my grandmother moved to a house she built on the lake where we spent our summers. I was too old for sleepovers and Uno by then but I was still devastated that they wouldn't be living nearby and someone else would be in their house. I mean, where would we have Christmas if not at grandma and grandpa's house?

Since then my grandfather has died, but my grandmother is now looking to move back to the St. Louis area to be closer to family again. We're thrilled.

Point is, I don't have any fonder childhood memories than those I have from that house.

On the other side of the argument, my paternal grandmother lived only 15 minutes away by car, but we didn't see that side of the family nearly as much. As I've gotten older, I've tried to make up for that, but I still don't have nearly as many memories. Lesson is, proximity doesn't always make for a suffocating presence.

I'm willing to bet that your kids will be grateful for the opportunity to be closer to their grandparents in the long run.
posted by Kimothy at 5:07 PM on June 5, 2009

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