Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

« Once a mother, always a mother »!

You may want to set some rules

True North Perspective

Alberte Villeneuve-Sinclair is the author of The Neglected Garden and two French novels. Visit her website to learn more www.albertevilleneuve.ca.

As a young teacher, I remember one of my students and his sister being raised by their grandparents. Both parents had been killed in a car crash.

At parents and teachers’ night, I met with the grandmother. She looked exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt sorry for her. Not only had this grandmother lost her own child but she was left with two young children to raise.

Parenting is a very demanding job, one that requires a lot of energy. Small children require a lot of care and one must be in good physical shape to cope with the daily demands of child rearing. Another factor is income. Some grandparents live on meager pensions and therefore do not have the disposable income needed to support a second round of children. This creates major changes in their lifestyle. When they thought they could finally relax, they start over. Their dreams of travel and greater freedom are dashed. 

 
  Always a mother: Gran Alberte, with baby Jess.

Grandparents who parent miss out on the opportunity to enjoy their role as grandparent with special visits, spoiling their grandchildren and then handing them back to their parents for the day to day routine. Another problem is discipline. One generation’s style differs vastly from the next as society forces changes and new challenges arise. It is very difficult for grandparents to set down rules, especially if the child is of teen age. 

Last Sunday, I watched the movie “Georgia Rule”. Georgia, a feisty grandmother played by Jane Fonda, suddenly finds herself having to care for Rachel, her seventeen year-old granddaughter who is out of control and has been kicked out. Georgia makes everyone abide by very strict rules that come as a shock to Rachel who was raised by an alcoholic mom. Rachel considers her grandmother a monster and tells her very blatantly she understands why her mother never wants to return to Idaho. This all changes when Rachel confesses she has been sexually abused by her stepdad. Lilly, Rachel’s mom, ends up at Georgia’s doorstep after leaving her pedophile husband. Lilly’s alcoholism flares up. Georgia tries to cope with her daughter’s problem while protecting Rachel and keeping the now-despised “ex” from pressuring Lilly into going back so he can save his own hide. 

You think this is a complicated scenario? There are many reasons a grandmother might end up raising a grandchild or grandchildren. Some parents end up in jail, others are on drugs and unfit to raise children, some are just plain too irresponsible, some end up seriously ill and have to be admitted to special care facilities... And the list goes on! One of my friends raised her granddaughter when both parents who were in the entertainment business separated and went on the road again.  

We, baby boomers, did it on our own with no help, or practically none, from our parents. My parents made it a point of honour not to help. When I married, I was told, “Don’t come to us with your problems.” And I didn’t! But the Boomers’ children are of a different generation! Many have become “Boomerang kids”. They leave home for university or college, to pursue a job or they get married… and come back when studies are done and they have no job prospect, or they come back between jobs or when their marriage collapses. Either way, they rely on their parents for support… the very parents who very often have paid for their studies, for their car, even their furniture... Lisa van de Geyn, in the May Chatelaine, says it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their children independence. I agree! If you are always there to pick up the pieces when they goof, they will never learn to be independent. They need to learn from their mistakes. We all make mistakes by taking a job we are not suited for or a job that is attractive but short-term or doesn’t pay well. Some move into an apartment or buy a house they cannot afford or get into a relationship that is almost doomed from the beginning. When everything collapses, they run home to mommy and daddy! 

An old friend of mine has seen her daughters leave and return several times. At one point, they were all living at home with mom and dad. Some situations are temporary. My friend Rita told me her daughter came home for two months when her job ended out west and she had leased her home for a year. Rita said it gave them a chance to connect at a different level. The problem starts when your kid takes advantage of your generosity. There comes a time when the terms of engagement have to be clear and responsibilities have to be specified (for example, room and board payment, laundry, shared housekeeping, respect of house rules, etc.) 

Last but not least there is the “Yuckie” (young unwitting costly kid) who is still financed by his parents. I remember meeting a couple in their forties through my husband’s property management business. They had convinced his mother to take over their mortgage. This was in no way a castle they were living in; they both had jobs and an income generated by a small apartment at the back of their house. How could they mess up at that age? Were they just taking advantage of a kind soul? 

And then, there is the grown child who simply doesn’t want to leave home. He or she is thirty, even forty and still relying on his or her parents. Now some of those parents think their offspring will pay them back by caring for them when they are old and need help in return. This may be a gamble. Being financially independent is a life skill, being a caring adult is learned skill. If this hasn’t been practiced through the years, if there has always been a sense of entitlement, will a parent get his money’s worth when he or she needs it? Not guaranteed! 

“Georgia Rule” had a pretty good ending! And we all strive for good endings. No one should live their life by proxy. Everyone deserves to live their life fully and to be happy. 

Wishing every caring mother a very happy Mother’s Day! And many happy returns! 

Cheers!

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