Full-time Grandma: I’m in over my head!

Dear Mamas,

Years ago I was a nanny for a professional couple. I watched over their 2 small children during the day and maintained their schedules & routines. It was an easy job and I thought it would make my new full-time job caring for my toddler grandchild a piece of cake.

But I am finding it difficult. I have recently moved, and I am in a new neighborhood. My grandson wants to run & play all day and into the night. Our new neighbors keep different late schedules and he hears them & wants to go outside all the time. He also nibbles at food throughout the day. His pediatrician says that’s okay, as long as he’s eating a balanced diet. The only time he stops running around all day is for a drink!

His iron levels dropped on two previous doctor’s visits, so I worry about his health. I can’t get him to stay put in his hi-chair  to eat a meal any more. He starts climbing and then he is done. So I’m trying to make him sit on my lap while I feed him to make sure he gets the right kind of nourishment, but I have this gut feeling that’s not okay. I need some advice!

Dear Reader,

Wow and wow. It sounds to me like you are POOPED! And that your grandchild is a little bit out of control. What does your son/daughter have to say about all of this? Are they aware of how difficult this big job has gotten for you? Do you have total responsibility for setting all the rules, routines and schedules or do you share this with them?

The move may have something to do with his behavior if it was different beforehand. Little kids feel stress just like we do but cannot verbalize their feelings and so they act them out instead. His stress level could be off the charts now depending on the circumstances of the move and how well he was prepared. Was it due to  a new job for his parents? Divorce? The transference of custody to you? How long ago did it happen? Did he lose contact with friends, neighbors, pets, or familiar places as a result? Is the rest of the family stressed out, too?

Regardless of what got you to where you are, it sounds like he really needs a schedule put into place for him now. I respectfully disagree with his pediatrician about the all-day grazing. Nutritionally, he may be getting what he needs but meal time is not only about nutrition. It’s also about learning how to sit (if only for 10 minutes) and eat like a civilized person and to understand that every day we do certain things at certain times.

Routine and predictability help children to feel calm and happy and to develop well. They need it as much as we do, especially when things are uncertain or new.

So my recommendation would be to:

  1. Have a long talk with the parents about their son. Explain your concerns and get them to support you in establishing a daily routine for him that is predictable and simple. Get them to agree to keep to it when you are not around.
  2. Put your past experience to use and incorporate a sleep schedule, meal schedule, bath time and several opportunities for play each day. Make sure to include plenty of outside running-around playtime at the park or in the yard; reading together; and unstructured activities in or out like block building, sand play, etc..
  3. Try doing the same things at the same time every day.

Given your clear concern for your grandson and your past work as caretaker for other little ones I am sure you know much more about what to do than you think you do. But if you really feel that the job is just too much for you at this point in your life, make sure to communicate that to your kids. And don’t feel guilty about it. I’m sure you can help them in a way that is less all consuming for you.

In the meantime, make sure to take good care of yourself, as well. And best of luck to you all!

The Mamas

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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