Family

Grandparents: Don’t Be So Grand

Seniors are stressing themselves physically, emotionally, financially — all for the beloved little ones

Although the benefits abound — extra love, care, and influence on the next generation — the pitfalls of raising grandchildren are just as plentiful. Caring, loving grandparents, if they’re not careful, can easily be drained physically, emotionally, and financially.

There’s a name for these elder overachievers: “super-grandparents.” And if they don’t watch their energy, time, and money properly, their golden years could start looking more like rust.

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One set of these “super-grandparents” lives just outside Boston. They’re not only helping to raise their grandchildren but their great-grandchildren, too.

“We’ve been blessed with good health and are happy to do it — the economy is tough, and if we can watch the grandkids and the ‘greats’ [the great-grandkids] instead of our kids paying for a sitter or daycare, that helps them and makes us happy,” the wife, 84, told LifeZette. “It’s exhausting, though. There are days when my husband and I definitely question being so involved.”

She added poignantly, “There’s only so much gas in the tank.”

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“Being involved” includes babysitting two half-days each week, driving to and from several different schools three days a week, and helping with homework, too.

[lz_bulleted_list title=”Tips on Putting Yourself First” source=”http://www.reuters.com”]Practice Saying ‘No’:
Maintain control of your own time and resources, even when it’s hard.|Avoid Recurring Costs (like a mortgage):
Instead, make occasional contributions as you can.|Retain Asset Control: Set up college savings plans and other specific vehicles for the grandkids.|Non-Financial Help: It doesn’t have to be money. Help instead with carpools or homework.[/lz_bulleted_list]

“The math is the killer,” said the grandfather, 84. “I say, ‘Wait until your father gets home!'”

Sharon Kotzen is a 73-year-old retiree who has super-grandparenting experience. The former guidance counselor from Wallingford, Pennsylvania, helps look after her three grandkids (including toddler twins). She also takes the family away on vacations. “I love it, but it is exhausting,” Kotzen told Reuters.

Baby boomers (many of whom have grandchildren) are now the country’s wealthiest generation. By 2020, the wealth of those now 52 to 70 will peak at more than 50 percent of the nation’s assets, as the Deloitte Center for Financial Services reported.

And they’re spending that money on family. A report by Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., found that 61 percent of grandparents financially supported adult children in the previous year.

Thirty-nine percent helped with errands, housework, and home repairs, while 33 percent pitched in to look after the grandkids. Thirty-eight percent reported covering their kids’ mortgage in the last year. It’s no wonder that after all of this, 30 percent said providing the help was “stressful,” and 14 percent said they were being asked to do “too much.”

Then there’s the financial part of the super-grandparent puzzle. Ignore it at your peril.

“Grandparents don’t know how long they will live, and with advances in medicine and technology, that could be a really long time,” said financial adviser and radio personality Dan Celia of Westtown, Pennsylvania. “Grandparents might have an adequate amount to get them though retirement, but the idea doesn’t resonate that they could outlive this amount.”

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Adult kids today are now more apt to ask for help — financial and otherwise.

“No question, our kids expect much more from us that we ever did from our own parents,” Florence Falk, a New York City psychotherapist and the grandmother of a four-year-old girl, told Grandparents.com. “Our grown children also seem to have a much greater sense of entitlement than we had.”

The parent-child relationship is less formal than even a generation ago, Falk believes. “But such a high level of expectation can put a real strain on grandparents,” she said. “In my case, I have to remind myself 20 times a day that I’m the grandmother — not the babysitter.”

“We want to spoil them. But we can’t give them everything.”

In a recent report by the University Hospitals of Columbia and Cornell, the stress of taking on grandkids in the event of a child’s lost job, mental health or substance abuse issues — or even the death of an adult child — can be overwhelming.

“The transition from being an older adult without dependents to raising grandchildren can be very stressful,” noted the report on Cornellcares.com. “Giving up your time, energy, and money to take over the responsibilities of being a primary parent again can stir up feelings such as grief, anger, loss, resentment, and possibly guilt, leading to depression or anxiety.”

The financial bottom line cannot be stressed enough. “I’ve heard so many horror stories from people who call into my radio show,” said Celia. “People are literally trying to figure out how they’re going to live — after they’ve given it all away to their children and grandchildren.”

Family itself is an interweaving of need, love, tradition — and constant change. It’s easy to forget one’s own needs for the future while concentrating on the lives of the beloved grandkids.

“We’re thinking about what our grandchildren need — they are such a blessing and sort of a ‘do-over’ for grandparents, and we want to spoil them,” said Celia, who is expecting his second grandchild. “But we can’t give them everything. We have to think about ourselves.”

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