A boomer grandma advises on how to set boundaries with millennial kids when it comes to babysitting

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A boomer grandma advises on how to set boundaries with millennial kids when it comes to babysitting
Marjorie Hershberg said that she loved her grandchildren — but that babysitting could be exhausting.Courtesy of Marjorie Hershberg
  • Marjorie Hershberg knew she wasn't alone when she realized she was done babysitting her grandkids.
  • She advises "guilty grandmas" on how to talk to their millennial children about babysitting.
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Marjorie Hershberg found herself bonding with another grandma who, like her, was waiting at the school gates to pick up her grandchild.

The stranger said she'd been "roped into" the job by the boy's millennial parents. The couple, who worked full time, had recruited her to watch him daily.

"She was unhappy with the arrangement but didn't know how to tell them," Hershberg, a life coach, told Business Insider.

The women's situations were remarkably similar — both grandmas felt that their adult kids were taking advantage of them when they had their own lives to live. They also felt guilty for thinking that way.

Hershberg was particularly distressed. She said she felt that caring for her grandchildren — a 4-year-old and a baby — was "killing" her because of the energy required.

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At that moment, the 66-year-old said, she decided to set up a counseling service, Guilty Grandma's Coaching, to help other boomers be heard.

"There's no point suffering in silence," she said. "If you're providing childcare, you have to stand up for yourself and lay out your terms."

Hershberg — who has now reached an agreement with her daughters to babysit only in an emergency — shared her top tips for grandparents facing the same dilemma.

Don't commit

It's common for grandparents to want to do everything they can to make their child's life easier when they have a newborn, Hershberg said.

Still, it's one thing helping out during the initial few months and another committing to watching your grandchild full time.

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Once you've told your child that you're in it for the long haul, she said, you've set expectations that can be hard to fulfill, especially if you're older.

"Those babies grow up, they walk, they're heavy, and the car seats are impossible," the coach said. "Do you really want to deal with all that when you're in your 60s?"

She said that new parents and boomer grandparents should see how things shake out before making a permanent arrangement.

Hershberg added that it's important to set boundaries from the beginning.

"You might say, 'I'm so excited you're pregnant,' and, later, 'Are you going back to work? And what are your plans for childcare?'" she said.

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"You could say that you'd love to pitch in now and again," she said, adding that "communication is key."

Don't lie because you feel guilty

Some of Hershberg's clients feel so bad about declining childcare requests that they lie to their kids.

"They'll make up an excuse like going to the doctor's," she said.

One client, she said, was conflicted because her daughter wanted her to babysit on the night she attended her weekly mahjong games. The daughter had decided to attend a parent-teacher conference with her son-in-law, so the kids would be at home on their own.

"She enjoyed her mahjong very much and was loathe to cancel," Hershberg said. "But she felt obliged."

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A boomer grandma advises on how to set boundaries with millennial kids when it comes to babysitting
Hershberg, pictured with her two daughters when they were both pregnant for the first time, advises other grandparents about realistic expectations about childcare .Courtesy of Marjorie Hershberg

She advised the grandma to tell the truth and say she had already made plans.

"I suggested that she cover herself in bubble wrap if there was any backlash," she said.

Hershberg told her client that if she still felt guilty, she could offer to babysit another night — on a day that suited her.

Ask for payment

Hershberg took a deep breath and asked her daughter to pay her a salary when she returned to work. The former teacher told her daughter that she could earn $150 a day as a substitute teacher but that her full-time childcare duties had ruled it out.

"I asked for minimum wage, no more, no less," Hershberg said.

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She said that it made sense because her daughter's job paid good wages — and her son-in-law worked, too.

"It wasn't a tremendous amount of money," the woman said, adding that the cost of a nanny or day care was much more.

She said that her daughter agreed to the salary.

Now, she said, she advises her clients who provide long hours of childcare to give parents a gently put ultimatum. "It's hard, but you deserve to be paid for your time," Hershberg said.

Praise your kids for their parenting

Hershberg recently counseled a client who frequently clashed with her daughter about their different parenting styles.

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"She was having a god-awful time because every time she went to babysit, she would attack her daughter and vice versa," she said.

The pair would argue about things as simple as where to put a coffee cup so it was out of reach of the kids, as well as providing them with snacks.

"Whatever the grandma did, it was wrong," Hershberg said. "The daughter resented her because she'd do things her way."

She said that the competing attitudes of boomers and millennials toward parenting created frustration on both sides.

Still, she offered the client a different perspective.

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"I told her that these kids are actually seeking our approval, " she said, adding that they often felt overwhelmed while juggling their kids and careers.

"It's important to reassure them that they're doing a great job," Hershberg said. "You can say things like, 'I am so impressed by you,' and, 'I can't even believe how great your kids behave.'"

She said that the relationship between the grandmother and her daughter dramatically improved once her client started praising her child.

Be aware of the time you have left

Hershberg said that it was important for grandparents to prioritize their own needs during their retirement years.

The coach, who sometimes Zooms with her clients' kids as a mediator, said older folks should be conscious of how much time they have left.

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A boomer grandma advises on how to set boundaries with millennial kids when it comes to babysitting
Hershberg and her husband, Eddy, are enjoying their senior years.Courtesy of Marjorie Hershberg

"You don't want to be in a position where you feel like your freedom is being curtailed," she said.

Hershberg quit full-time babysitting partly because she wanted to go hiking with her husband rather than potty train.

She stressed the value of being open with your kids.

"Let them know how often you're prepared to babysit — whether it's once a week, once a month, or for emergencies only," she said.

Hershberg added that grandparents must be realistic about changing their relationships with their grandchildren.

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"When they get older — maybe by the time they're 11 or 12 — they're not so interested in seeing Grandma and Grandpa anymore," she said. "And then where are you?"

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