After almost two decades of marriage with nary a romantic trip alone – not even a honeymoon – my husband and I recently got the chance to have the vacation of our dreams when his boss invited us to a resort in the Caribbean. Which is amazing, except for one problem: It was a weeklong trip. And we have four kids.
I wasn’t sure we’d get to take advantage of the opportunity, seeing as nobody is exactly excited to spend a solid week tending to four boys. I can’t imagine why (snort). But in the grandest gesture of grandparental awesomeness, my mom volunteered to stay with them so we could go on the trip. She willingly left the comfort of her own quiet, tidy home to be with my boys in our loud, chaotic land of dirty laundry and roughhousing and farts.
She held down the fort the whole time, juggling a hectic daily schedule of school and extracurricular activities (and a sick kid, to boot – thanks, flu season). And in that selfless gesture, she gave my husband and me an invaluable gift — the chance to reconnect, to rejuvenate, to step away from work and parenthood and just belong to ourselves again.
But it doesn’t even take a week to realize how lucky we are, those of us who have parents around willing to babysit. Because when grandparents offer to take the kids – whether it’s for a few hours or a few days – they are doing so much more than simply allowing us to run an errand or go on a date night. Their contributions go far deeper. Science has proven that grandparents who babysit actually live longer, but really, we are the ones reaping the benefits.
There are some excellent babysitters out there, but nobody is going to love our kids the way their grandparents do. The teenage girl from down the street might keep them alive and make them mac and cheese and send a Snapchat to her friends if they do something particularly cute, but grandparents will look at them adoringly even if they’re parked on the couch picking their noses. Their hearts are full of love and compassion for these children, a level that no normal sitter could ever come close to achieving.
We get to leave our kids with people who would literally lay down their lives for our children, the only people on earth who love them with the same intensity that we do. Not to mention our kids eat up this love and attention like candy (while they’re probably also eating actual candy, because grandparents), so we never have to worry that they’re miserable or mistreated in our absence.
While we’re basking in the peace of mind that brings, we’re also basking in the cost-efficiency, because let’s face it: regular sitters ain’t cheap. But grandparents are often willing to do it for free! Yes, I make sure to give my mom tokens of appreciation whenever I can, but she would literally refuse the money if I tried to pay her for watching my kids, and I suspect that most other grandparents are the same way. For financially strapped people like … well, the majority of people with money-sucking kids, not having to pay a babysitter can mean the difference between having a grown-up social life and being stuck at home all the time. It can mean a date night you wouldn’t get otherwise, or a movie with friends once in a while.
Kids are hard, and being with them 24/7 can be taxing, even for the most devoted of parents. An hour to go to the grocery store or the DMV alone, without schlepping along a vanload of children, can be a huge sanity-saver. It’s no hour at the spa, but I guarantee it’s nearly as beneficial for the ol’ stress levels. And we can’t underestimate the value of taking one kid to the doctor or dentist without having to worry about keeping a sibling occupied during the whole visit. It’s the perfect time to go to Grandma’s!
More important than anything else, though, is the bond they’re creating with our kids. Ask anyone who has spent substantial time with their grandparents, and they’ll be able to rattle off a laundry list of cherished moments. Grandparents are how traditions are kept. How wisdom is imparted. How family stories and recipes are passed down. They’re making memories that our kids will fondly recall when they’re no longer kids, when they’re hanging out with their own grandkids (babysitting, hopefully).
They may not realize exactly how much they’re helping to enrich our lives, and our children’s, but grandparents who spend time with their grandkids are the catalysts of a huge domino effect. Dropping the kids off with their grandparents, for something as simple as an errand or as complex as a vacation, gives us a breather. It makes would-be stressful situations a little bit easier. It allows us to strengthen our spousal relationships through date nights that may not otherwise be possible. Because we get to do all of these things, we are happier.
Our families are more stable. Our lives are better. We have the peace of mind of knowing that someone loves our kids as much as we do – and that our parents still love us selflessly enough to give us every chance at a higher quality of life. Even through the simplest of means.