DEAR CAROLYN: When my daughter was 16, she got pregnant. She made all kinds of promises about taking care of her [child], but that's not the way it works with a teenage mom in high school and college, so I did the majority of the child care. She eventually got a job and moved out; she is now a good mom to my 11-year-old granddaughter. My son and his wife had a baby last year. My daughter-in-law wants to go back to work and they've asked me to take care of my grandson for them, since I'm retired. I was willing to do it for a few months, but my son said they would need me for a few years since they're not comfortable with putting my grandson in day care. He says he expected me to help them out since I did so much for his sister all those years ago and it would "basically be the same thing." I told him no, I was 49 then and I'm 60 now, and they're a married couple, not a 16-year-old with a baby. Now my son says I'm playing favorites "just like I always did" and I'm forcing him and his wife to put my grandson in day care when they're not comfortable with that. My husband says they can figure it out like we did, and he's really against me even doing this for a few months. I'd like to do something for them, though, since I feel a little guilty that it looks like I'm favoring my daughter. Do you have any suggestions?
GRANDMA: 1. Your son is emotionally blackmailing you. Shame on him.
2. You are falling for it. Don't. You weren't "favoring your daughter"; you made the judgment you could live with under the circumstances you were given. We all do that.
3. Their anti-day-care bias is not a good look.
I got so huffy I forgot the advice:
Hold your ground. You are not doling out two equal stacks of child care years to each of your children; you are giving out equal responsiveness to wants, needs and emergencies. As you can.
RE: DAY CARE: "Not comfortable with day care" (equal sign) "Let's save money by guilting Grandma into babysitting for free."
ANON 1: There's that. Day care bias is real though — have you heard comments about paying people to raise one's children?
RE: SON: She omits whether this is true, doesn't she, about favoritism?
ANON 2: If true, though, then leveraging it for free child care is a no. The adult approach is: "I am struggling with some old feelings that I'd like to talk to you about." And then an explanation, with factually anchored examples.
And if the mom agrees, the answer is an apology, not guilt-servitude: "I did favor your sister, and I'm sorry for that. You deserved better." Or: "I realize I gave you reason to believe I favored your sister, and I'm sorry I didn't see that. I've always loved you as much, just in a different way," Or similar.
RE: SON: Maybe the brother felt the favoritism in other circumstances throughout his youth. There may be an underlying cause there that is worth exploring.
ANON 3: Fair point, thanks.