My parents refuse to babysit even when I had cancer – what should I do?

Dear Newsweek, My parents and my partner’s parents rarely babysit our children. I believe that by doing this they are denying themselves a good relationship with the children, but also denying us a much-needed break to work on our own relationship and not being 100 percent focused on our children.

We used to share a semi-detached house with my mother and stepfather. We owned a restaurant/bar and the days were long and the nights sometimes even longer. My mom was fine babysitting my daughter once she was asleep and all chores were done and there were the occasional emergencies including when someone tried to rob our store. I had another child with my partner and four months later we were at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our restaurant had to close and shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with stage 2 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

My parents, who lived downstairs, decided that while I was battling cancer, drinking and partying was more fun than helping us with our kids. At one point my partner went to their house and asked for their help and they laughed at him.

Woman fights with children and laundry
Stock image of a woman with two children and laundry. Insert a stock image of two people having a drink. The woman struggled to understand why her parents would not offer help to their children.
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When I mention that my partner and I are only traveling as a couple, my mother is quick to say she won’t be babysitting. My partner’s parents own properties in three different states and spend most of their time in Florida, away from their only grandchildren.

They just don’t bother and my partner and I are stressed out about the relationship with them, not having time for each other and grandparents who only care about seeing their grandkids on video calls or on vacations. I think a lot of grandparents have that “I already raised mine” mentality, but a lot of us parents don’t feel that way. We all share the same blood, so why don’t some grandparents bother spending time with their grandchildren or contribute to the people they become?

I don’t know what to say to my kids when they ask why their grandparents don’t spend more time with them. I don’t know what to say to the grandparents if I want to skip the holidays because why would I drag my family across the country or take them in when they don’t even feel like visiting the kids every other day of the year? How do I explain to the grandparents every single day that they are missing an opportunity for these children to know who they are? That they are role models for what family should look like, how they participate in the lives of others? How do I ensure that my children don’t become such grandparents but still have healthy boundaries?

Miss A, unknown

Newsweek’s “What should I do?” offers readers expert advice. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know at We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work, and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.

You can’t control your parents, but you can be better grandparents when the time comes

Sherry Cormier is a licensed psychologist and board-certified bereavement trauma specialist and former professor at the University of Tennessee and West Virginia University. She is the author of Sweet Sorrow: Finding Enduring Wholeness after Loss and Grief.

Hello Ms A,

Thank you for submitting this issue! I am so sorry to hear about the struggles you have had during the pandemic regarding your restaurant closure and your lymphoma diagnosis. These are such stressful events.

I know that as adults, we always have preferences about how our parents should behave as grandparents, whether it’s spending more time with our children, providing financial support, etc. And regardless of the issue, we’re often at odds with the decisions agree to our parents. We cannot make our parents live up to our expectations because they made choices about how to live their lives. Like you did And it sounds like they made it very clear to you what they can and can’t do with your kids.

My suggestion is to focus more on your limitations, expectations and desires. Sit down with your partner and children and decide when you want to spend time with the grandparents and when you don’t, and let them know these limits. You can decide that you only spend the holidays with them every two years and do something else the other year. And remember, you don’t have to explain anything to your parents except that you’ve all figured out how your family is getting on.

Also, I would talk to your partner about how you can meet your parenting needs by exploring other options that don’t depend on grandparents. Think about traveling or dating as a couple, or get help looking after the kids by finding someone to swap or hire with.

While you can’t control your parents, just remember that when you and your spouse become grandparents, you can choose to be different types of grandparents and offer your own grandchildren the kind of support and time they give to yours deserve in my opinion. I wish you all the best.

Go ahead and create the life you really want

Ruth Freeman is a psychotherapist and founder of Peace At Home Parenting Solutions.

One of the biggest stressors in life is trying to change other people. It is a complete illusion and causes all sorts of suffering, especially in families. It’s certainly important to let people know how their behavior affects us, and this is best done with a clear, non-blameable I-statement. In this case, it could read: “We are deeply disappointed that you have decided not to spend more time with your grandchildren. It would mean a lot to them and we would be grateful for the break. We hope you’ll reconsider trying to fit them into your schedule more often.”

You are absolutely right that children benefit enormously from regular time with grandparents, and that grandparents themselves benefit as well. In fact, there is evidence that grandparents who care for their grandchildren regularly (not full-time) tend to live longer, and this arrangement may reduce the risk of depression in both groups, according to a study. Grandparents can also have a very positive influence on grandchildren. So your feelings of loss because of your children’s grandparents’ indifference are fully justified. However, if you continue to focus on that loss, chances are you and your children will continue to suffer from it.

If the children ask about their grandparents’ behavior, you could show empathy by simply mirroring their feelings: “Sounds like you’re really sad that your grandparents don’t come to visit more often.” You can also guide them, directly with them to communicate with their grandparents and to ask the very questions they ask you. You could invite them to call, email, or write their grandparents and express their concerns directly.

Finally, many people create “chosen families” when biological families are not supportive. There may be neighbors or friends who are interested in their children and you may want to build those relationships. Connecting with other families can also ease the disappointment of limited family connections, and shared childcare can be part of that. You may want to consider joining a neighborhood community or school group. Most importantly, when you can accept the nature of your children’s grandparents and move on to creating the life you truly desire for them, yourself and your partner, you will be better able to support your children. My parents refuse to babysit even when I had cancer – what should I do?

Rick Schindler

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