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Nana Doesn’t Want to be Nanny

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: I recently retired as an occupational therapist.  It’s work that I always have loved.  I now am a full time nanny to my darling baby granddaughter.  My daughter and her husband can afford child care but feel more comfortable with me.  I am just sorting out my own transition and really did not envision this full-time role.  How does one change this situation without guilt?

Answer: Your issue is complex yet it is one that has a solution.

The operative phrase in your question is that you loved your work. For some, retirement is a relief from schedules, pressures, commuting and deadlines.  For others, it’s a divorce from a beloved career that requires adjustment and time for a good transition.

Clearly, occupational therapy has been a rewarding career for good reason. The Occupational Outlook Handbook notes that occupational therapists help clients improve their ability to perform tasks in living and working environments, working toward an independent productive and satisfying life despite limiting conditions. It’s a therapy that makes a significant difference.

My best guess is that you made a difference for many who now have a better life because of their increased ability to eat, walk, move, climb stairs, cook, drive, shop and more.

If we wonder why we care so deeply for our grandchildren, it all began a million years ago in the plains of Africa. Consider this from “Project Renewment: The First Retirement Model for Career Women” (Scribner, 2008) by Bernice Bratter and myself:

“A mother gave birth to a hominid child after a long and exhausting labor.  She barely had enough energy to nurse her baby and not enough energy to feed or care for her older child.  According to geriatrician Dr. William Thomas, ‘A miracle occurred.’ (What are Old People for?  How Elders Will Save the World, (Vander Wyk & Burnham, 2004). The maternal grandmother intentionally shared her food with her grandchild.  At that moment, a new pattern of support began that carried over to other families.

“Thomas writes that humans are the only species that have grandparents deliberately helping to raise grandchildren.  He calls this grandparent support a ‘defining characteristic’ of humans.”

Now let’s discuss guilt.  Perhaps the worst criticism for a woman is the suggestion that she is a bad mother.  The next worst is the suggestion she is a bad grandmother.  Assuming you choose to change your nanny role, some guilt may loom and linger – but only for a while.

It can be difficult for adult children to acknowledge that their mother had a life beyond family, particularly if it seems you always have been there and available.  Perhaps they never knew about the countless nights you spent working at home to complete your undone business.

One tried-and-true approach is honesty. Consider explaining to your children where you are in your life and that the full-time nanny role just doesn’t fit. You might also help to find your replacement.  Reducing your full-time nanny role to part time is another option.

As one grandmother mentioned to me, “I used to think that my grandfather’s saying, ‘Thank you for coming and thank you for going’ was an uncaring statement directed to his grandchildren.  His words ring true to me now.  Being a grandmother is the most enthralling and exhausting job.  I am thrilled I can enjoy my grandchildren, spoil them and then send them home.”

For most of us, the relationship with grandchildren is special. We know the joy they bring to our lives may be fleeting and can never be duplicated.

Grandchildren have our undivided love, attention and caring. In turn, our lives are enriched in ways that go beyond careers and success.

Here is the message:  Be honest with your children, help find a full-time or part-time substitute and live your life fully – whatever that means to you. The guilt will evaporate with time.

Best wishes…and thank you for your good question.

Copyright 2010 Helen Dennis. All rights reserved.

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