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Grandma’s helping with grandchildren, but doesn’t like what she sees

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Q: I am the grandmother of two: a girl, 8, and a boy, 10. The girl was recently diagnosed with dyslexia, and the boy has several learning disabilities. I recently retired and relocated to my daughter’s home in Canada to care for the children during the summer. My daughter is a loving mother and always tries to meet the children’s needs.

I am writing about their bedtime routine. The children sleep with their mother, who starts their routine around 9:30. There is a lot of talking and sometimes fighting, so no one settles until around 11:30, sometimes as late as 12:30. My daughter gets up around 8, and the children shortly afterward. My room is on a separate floor, and I do not get involved in the bedtime routine.

I have two concerns: one is the lack of privacy around bedtime for my daughter, and the other is the lack of sleep for the children. They both seem tired during the day. They are not in school, and although we have access to a neighborhood pool, they frequently spend most of the day on devices.

My plan in being here was to help my daughter and accept things as they are, and to establish a trusting relationship with the children. Their father sees them often but uses drugs and is erratic. Child support is garnished. My daughter was out of work for seven months but now has an excellent job with a company in Berlin, so she works from home. She can go to the office, but it’s far from her home. I am frightened.

A: Your daughter and grandchildren are very fortunate to have you for the summer. The most hopeful statement in this letter is, “My plan in being here was to help my daughter and accept things as they are, and to establish a trusting relationship with the children.” That is a worthy goal, and if you can do that in your time there, that’s enough. In fact, accepting things as they are is one of the most powerful ideas a person can aspire to: to not be feckless, but to understand how little we have control over. Keeping a stance of humility is the best way to be of true assistance. You won’t force your notions, opinions or judgments upon your daughter and grandchildren, and instead will be of true service.

Where to begin? Yes, bedtime sounds like the hottest of messes, but don’t get involved. I have an idea that may kill two birds with one stone.

You mention that your daughter is working from home, and there is a pool available, so start there. Every day that it isn’t raining, go to the pool. If the spot offers swim lessons and money is available, sign your grandchildren up. Bring snacks, and hand them out freely to your grandchildren and any others who stop by. My hope is that, if there are many children there, they can share snacks and become “pool friends” who will be great for your grandchildren to play with. You can also bring Uno, books, a tablet, audiobooks and more, and create a schedule: swim, diving board competition with each other or friends, lunch, rest, swim, tablet and snacks, shower and go home. (It may be easier to shower there, but if neurodivergent needs are too great in the locker rooms, which can often be loud and chaotic, do it at home.)

My hope is that, by having the children in the fresh air and using their bodies all day, bedtime will become naturally easier for your daughter and the children. As you know, screens make children wired and tired. Their brains are overstimulated, and their bodies are under-exercised, leading to an inability to settle and rest. I’m also hoping that, because your daughter will be able to work in peace, she will be more calm and patient in the evenings. This will also give her more privacy, which you said she needs.

You mention being frightened. Is there something abusive going on? Is someone in emotional or physical danger? If so, that is a bigger issue. But if you are frightened because you are worried about the lack of privacy only, just continue supporting your daughter in finding and keeping the boundaries that feel right for her.

As for the children’s father, we know that a parent in the throes of addiction can be full of love and good intentions, but may struggle to follow through on those good intentions, leaving children confused, disappointed and angry. You cannot do anything about this addiction, but you can provide stability and a safe place to land (emotionally speaking) for your grandchildren. You can listen, help them process their feelings and love them. This kind of relationship, one of a warm and doting grandmother, can provide true comfort to your grandchildren, so don’t underestimate your importance. And by loving your grandchildren, you are always loving and supporting your daughter. Good luck.

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