Full-time grandmother? That’s not for me!

Die meisten Omas und Opas sind verrückt nach ihren Enkeln. Aber wie sieht es aus, wenn Grosseltern nur wenig Lust auf die Kinder ihrer Kinder haben? Marlise ist 68 und will keine Vollzeit-Oma sein. Ist das verwerflich?

“When my first grandchild was born, the whole world expected me to be beside myself with joy. Everyone thought it was perfect timing that I had just retired – especially my daughter. After all, I would then have plenty of time to support her with my grandchild – there are now two. Well, it just unfortunately turned out that I want to be anything but a full-time grandmother. 

I love my daughter dearly and we’ve always had a close relationship – so I was delighted when she told me she was pregnant. When little Marleen was born, I thought she was incredibly cute. But everything was more subdued than with my friends, who really outdid each other in our Whatsapp group with the latest baby pictures and videos of their grandchildren. When I took care of the little one for a few hours, so that my daughter could sleep, it didn’t give me as much pleasureas it perhaps should have done and I found myself jumping for joy with relief when I stepped out of the flat and I had time “for myself” again and I didn’t hear screaming in my ears. 

I didn’t broadcast it like that. Not to anyone. I didn’t want to hurt my daughter and son-in-laws feelings. Also, would I meet with understanding from my friends who are completely absorbed in their job of being grandmothers? Probably not … At first I wouldn’t have known how to explain it, because I do love Marleen. But just not so enthusiastically.”   

“I had to take away my daughters hope that I would be there for her children all the time”.

“At first it wasn’t that noticeable, because my daughter first had to settle in as a mother – she didn’t even notice how little I wished to have the little one over to see me. That changed when Matteo was born, two years after Marleen. My daughter asked me if we could make a fixed schedule for the days when I could look after the children. Apart from the fact that the two children demanded a lot of her energy, she also wanted to return to her old job part-time. But the costs for day-care centres are so high that her salary almost completely goes to pay for it. She suggested three days a week and a weekend now and then. 

That was when I had to disappoint her and tell her that I would like the grandchildren to visit now and then and that I would fill in if necessary, but to plan around me? I didn’t want that. And now, a year later, that hasn’t changed: I don’t want to be obliged to do anything.”

“The time I have left, I want to do what I want to do.”

“I have thought a long time about why my desire to live life fully according to my grandchildren is limited. I can now think of a few reasons: First and foremost, it is important for me to live my own life and not to live it through someone else.

That’s the way it was for most of my life. I worked pretty hard and had little support. It’s nobody’s fault, my parents died early, my ex-husband chose a different life. But it has meant that I have dedicated my life to my work and my two children (I also have a son). I was too tired in the evening for self-fulfilment. And in my mid-50s, I noticed that I couldn’t get up off the sofa as well as I did when I was younger – in other words, for all my athleticism, my body’s best years are now long gone and I’m lucky to still be so fit. How do I know what my health will be like in ten years’ time? 

That’s why I’ve made up my mind: I want to travel and do all the things I still can before I become more and more immobile. To be honest, I’m totally enjoying my life. The other day I was in Paris and afterwards I visited the castles of the Loire, it was like being in a dream. And the second reason, which I would never say out loud , is that I feel very little desire to be an “indirect” mother of small children again. I no longer want to cook, do handicrafts, read to them or have them throw irrational tantrums – at least I don’t want to be obliged to be there. It gives me nothing – on the contrary, it exhausts me. When my grandchildren come to visit, that’s different, then I like to spoil them – for a few hours.”

“I find that the expectations, my daughter’s expectations of me are presumptuous.” 

“Unfortunately, my mother-daughter relationship has been strained ever since. Other grandparents would be delighted to spend as much time as possible with their grandchildren, my daughter says, accusing me of selfishness. I would also not support her career. But how long am I supposed to do that? I controlled her homework and helped her financially with her studies. Isn’t it understandable that I now want to put myself first? 

I think her expectations of me are too presumptuous. What about her husband? Why can’t he cut back a bit? And daycare centres do exist – even if they are extremely expensive. When I bring children into the world, I am primarily responsible for them and not their grandparents. You can’t be angry with them because they don’t want to help or have other plans. Of course, I understand that she doesn’t want to be a full-time mum forever – she loves her children and her work. But it’s also not my fault that there is no longer a whole village to raise the children. Society has changed. And I’m not a nanny, but a woman who doesn’t sit bored on the sofa waiting for her children to call. 

On the other hand, I don’t want to be a burden on my children later in life either. I would be happy if we did something together at regular intervals. Maybe I’ll grow even more into the role when my grandchildren grow up. Then maybe I can do more with them. Yes, and then I’ll bombard my Whatsapp group – with teenage photos.”

Awina supports families in financing daycare places and thus advocates for a better reconciliation of family and work.