"You're a pushover!" These are the words my friend Gale hears when she mentions she's babysitting for one of her grandchildren. My friendship with Gale goes way back to third grade. We no longer live in the same city, but as long as I've known her as an adult, she was always the worldly one: Want to know the best new trendy restaurant, don't-miss Broadway show, terrific museum exhibit? Want to know a charming place to stay in Tuscany? She's always been the one to ask.
And now, this pushover business. Her sons, their wives and children live in the same city as she does--one 20 minutes to the north; the other 25 to the south. Both the families have regular babysitters but when there's an emergency--a child at school feels ill or a 5-year-old doesn't want to go to camp one day--Gale gets the call. "I'm the go-to girl," she admits. And she doesn't mind. "I love being part of their lives," she says. "They are such interesting little people. I love knowing who their friends are, what they like, what they don't like."
As to being a pushover, she says it isn't as though her grown children were asking her to do something she, personally, didn't want to do--say, be the regular babysitter two days a week. And if she felt she were being put upon? "I have a big mouth. I might not complain to my daughters-in-law about it, but I sure would pick up the phone and let my sons know."
So far, she hasn't had to. She'd just like those "pushover" remarks to go away.
They probably won't. Whether friends have grandchildren living nearby or have to fly across the country to see them, everyone seems to have their own style--or pace--for being with their grandchildren. Maybe it's their own personal toleration for being around children. Or a commitment to helping out their grown children. But when friends aren't available to do things with us, many of us lean back on that old saw and think--they're being taken advantage of by their kids. Or they're giving up their autonomy and I wouldn't do that. But that's saying our friends don't know how to say No if they don't want to do something. Most of the time, we want to do it. Or we wouldn't do it. It's part of our autonomy.