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Leaving Children With Grandparents: Hit Or Miss?

Posted: April 14, 2010

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Leaving children with grandparents might seem like the perfect solution to working mothers in India. But is it always the optimal choice?

By Radhika.M

Ten years ago, Hema, mother to a 6 month old daughter in Bangalore, went back to work after her maternity leave, worried, yet grateful. Unlike her peers who struggled on the noon to night job, she had her parents’ support. She lived two streets away from them, which made it convenient to leave the baby with her mother and pick her up on the way back.

Things went haywire though when the baby started walking, leaving Hema’s 62 year old mother Krishnakumari exhausted, with no energy left for household chores. Guilt plagued Hema at work. Used to being waited upon his whole life, Krishnakumari’s preoccupation with the child left her husband sulking. Complaints would begin pouring into Hema’s ears the minute she returned from work.

“They refused my offer to hire a nanny. A hired help around home was more of an intrusion for them. They would not let me opt for a day-care centre either,’’ says Hema. She took heart from the fact that the child bonded well with her parents.

Grandparenting, considered a safe and reliable option, is what working parents turn to eagerly, if the option is available.

A major challenge for working mothers

Her story is that of thousands of working mothers today. Grandparenting, considered a safe and reliable option, is what working parents turn to eagerly, if the option is available. Yet, it comes with its own set of issues. Hema’s problems ended temporarily when she moved to Delhi with her husband who landed a better paying job. She had to quit her job though.

Ten years on, bruised from an abusive marriage and an ongoing divorce, Hema finds herself in a similar situation again, except, with two children now. She has returned to work after eight years, for a lower paying job with an NGO. Her two year old son is in day-care, while her father watches over the older one. Hema’s mother lives in the US, where her sister needs her help.

Leaving children with grandparents

For the grandparents, life is full with the arrival of grandchildren, but the joys are accompanied by troubles as well. Emotional conflicts assume a different dimension when parents-in-law are the care-givers as in the case of Lakshmi* and Vinutha*. Lakshmi, a software professional from Chennai, and Vinutha, another techie from Bangalore, leave their sons with their mothers-in-law.

For Vinutha, quitting work is not an option because she has a home loan to repay, whereas Lakshmi does not find a reason to quit work because her bosses have been accommodative. Her office is a five minute walk from home.

On a busy day, Lakshmi returns home late to stony silence from her husband and parents-in-law. “It feels like I’ve committed a crime,’’ she says. She is also irked when her mother-in-law gets possessive about the child. “It is like I have lost my rights over my son because I am working.’’ Vinutha faces a similiar situation and says she hates her husband’s confidence that her mother-in-law can better nurture her son.

In the case of working mothers with older children, TV and play habits often become the focal point of arguments at home. Varalakshmi, a 65-year old housewife is kitchen-bound all day. She finds herself vexed with her eight year old grand-daughter’s “excessive” TV watching. The child’s lack of obedience overwhelms not just her, but her disciplinarian husband too. When the two rebuke the child, she withdraws into a shell and avoids her grandparents.

… a huge generation gap are a common problem when children grow up with their grandparents.

Such issues due to a huge generation gap are a common problem when children grow up with their grandparents. Priya K, Academic Officer at a college, says dialogue between the parents and grandparents holds the key. Every time a TV fight takes place, Priya says it takes compromise, talking to her daughter and her parents, to settle fights. Her patience and ability to look at such fights as trivial while addressing them seriously helps her.

Many working mothers relying on their parents-in-law to take care of their children feel that the husband’s support is critical. “I know my husband is stuck between his parents and me. He makes an effort at being a good father. All I want him to do is talk to me openly when we have those few precious minutes to ourselves,’’ says Lakshmi. Women like her feel that when it comes to parenting, their husbands are caught in a time-warp. “Men prefer to side with their mothers on interpersonal issues. It would help if they tackle child related issues objectively”, she says. Lakshmi believes that it is a solution that will go a long way in easing parenting pressures both for working women and grandparents.

While there are no easy answers, many women like Vinutha and Lakshmi try to find joy in friends, work, colleagues, music, books and most importantly, enjoying the time they do get with their young children.

* Names changed to protect identities

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