By Brian Goslow
Two years ago Evelyn and Ralph Diaz began exploring retirement communities in Virginia and Florida. Simultaneously, they were frequently driving up to Worcester from their Queens, N.Y. home to visit their son, Rick Diaz, his wife, Danielle, and their two children, Jacob and Jianna.
As a close-knit family, Evelyn Diaz knew she and her husband would want to see their grandchildren as much as possible. “I asked him, ‘Do you want to move to Florida and have to drive or fly to see your grandchildren two or three times a year?’” she said. “I said that wasn’t what I wanted.”
Meanwhile, Rick and Danielle’s children had gotten to an age when they needed separate rooms; also, the cost of their childcare had reached $828-$1328 a month. “For a while, we were paying more for childcare than our mortgage,” Danielle Diaz said. “We were a sinking ship from having to pay for the little one and after-school care for the older one.”
A solution was found when the senior Diazes agreed to move to Worcester. Rick and Danielle Diaz initially sought a multi-family home where Rick’s father, who has bad knees, and mother would live on the first floor. Instead, they found adjacent homes in a quiet community. Ralph and Evelyn, both 54, now look after Jacob, 8, and Jianna, 6, after classes on school days as well as when the children are home sick.
Though this seems an ideal setup, grandparents, who provide childcare, may find that some things have changed since they were busy raising their own children.
Lois Young-Tulin, author of The Granny Nanny: A Guidebook for Modern Grandmothers, Conscious Grandmothering or What Every Grandmother Should Know About Babysitting, started work on her book shortly after her first biological grandchild arrived, having quickly found out that many of the ways she raised her children are no longer accepted by a new generation of parents.
“The rules had changed; it’s not like getting back on the bicycle and riding the same way like when we raised our kids,” said Young-Tulin, 71, who interviewed 70 women of varied cultures and economic backgrounds for the book. Among the biggest changes in childrearing she found are young children are fed differently these days, there’s a better understanding of allergies and, as was clearly pointed out to her, babies are no longer allowed to sleep on their stomach or have blankets.
“It was winter and I was babysitting, my grandson was in the crib and it was cold; I got a blanket and put it over him. When my daughter-in-law came home, she was, ‘You’re not allowed to do that. They cannot sleep with any blankets. They can smother,’ ” she said.
Although today’s grandparents were advised to put their babies to sleep on their stomachs to avoid choking on their own spit-up, it’s been learned more recently that the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is higher in babies who sleep on their stomachs. “Now they’re also saying no bumpers on the side of the crib because they can get stuck under them,” she said.
“Because the babies now sleep on their back, they don’t get the strength to start crawling unless they have a certain amount of ‘tummy time’ during the day,” said Young-Tulin. “That was all new to me, but by the second grandchild, I was like an old pro.”
Young-Tulin also realized that being a good grandparent meant going by the parents’ rules. “Their rules have to be respected,” she said. “If they have certain rules like (put the child in) time out, or if they don’t want them glued to the television or going out and getting toys whenever they want, I abide by the parents’ rules.”
Evelyn Diaz agrees with that. “I had friends who had bad relations with their daughter-in-law because they wanted to rule,” she said. “I told Danielle, ‘We’re the grandparents; you’re the parents. We raised our son the way we wanted. We’re here to back you up. We’re not here to override your childrearing.’ ”
Letting things fester can make little problems into big ones. “If I disagree with something, I say it and it doesn’t happen again,” said Danielle Diaz. “Rick and I raise our kids with the belief it takes a village and we are open to input.” Prior to their parents’ arrival, the couple had an in-house day care person for their children. “Having their grandparents help raise them is a good change,” she said.
“We eat together almost every day of the week; on Saturday and Sunday, we have family breakfast or brunch,” Evelyn Diaz said. “For the sake of the kids, we keep everything on an even keel — there’s no cellphones and they have to take their hats off.”
While they live next door to one another and enjoy doing many things together, both Diaz families also enjoy separate outings, with Evelyn and Ralph frequently hosting visits from their friends from back in New York.
There’s one tradition that’s never missed, however.
“Every Saturday morning, I send Danielle a text message with ‘Coffee’ and a smiley face on it,” Evelyn Diaz said. “Five minutes later, she’s at my door with a mug and that’s how we start our weekend.”
Along with establishing rules for raising the grandchildren, Young-Tulin said it’s important not to commit to what you can’t handle. The Wyncote, Pa. resident has eight grandchildren so she’s learned to balance the ones that live relatively close by with those further away. Every Sunday, Young-Tulin babysits Dylan East, 10, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., via Skype and Apple Computer’s Facetime, a built-in camera component. “His parents have something to do for an hour so we play games and he tells me everything about his school,” she said. “It’s amazing and immediate. I understand what’s going on in his life and am not waiting for a letter to come.”
Young-Tulin found grandfathers are much more involved in helping to raise their grandchildren than in past generations. “I think they watch their sons or sons-in-law; men are more involved parents (than in the past),” she said. “The role models are reversed. The child who has a baby, who is male, is teaching the grandfather.” These days, it’s not out-of-the-ordinary to have the dad stay at home while mom works. “It’s a different gender that’s changing the diaper, nurturing and being home with the baby.”
She found “Granny Nannies” were more prevalent in the African-American, Hispanic and Asian communities. “There’s a different family feeling for the elders in the family,” she said, explaining that the family accommodates them rather than putting them in a senior setting. The elders have a keen sense of their ethnic history and use teaching their grandchildren about their roots and heritage as a way to build their self-esteem.
Those communities also tend to have a greater number of single parents, Young-Tulin said, who need one of their parents to help out because they need to work. “It also lessens the living expense if the grandparent moves in,” she added.
That tradition of looking after one another continues with Cindy Scott, 51, of Brookfield, who has hosted numerous family members over the years. When her daughter, Tiffany, started to work as a waitress, Scott and her husband volunteered to take their granddaughter, Tianna, on weekends.
“I went on the fact I’m a teacher, I had another daughter at home and a husband, and I like kids around,” said Scott, whose mother also looked after Tianna. “I’m from an Italian family and in my family and other Italian families I know, to help out like this is not uncommon. For me, it’s a no-brainer. It wasn’t a case of how am I going to help. My grandparents helped my mother raise me and my mom helped me raise Tiffany. It was the way our family worked.”
When Tiffany, “a beautiful, smart girl who was on the dean’s list” at Framingham State University and who fought social anxiety while trying to balance her studies with three jobs, had a second child, Adrianna, Scott and her husband took Tiffany in for a year, enrolling her in a pre-school program.
Eventually, Tiffany returned home to live with her younger sister and mom, who along with her partner, has found today’s job market difficult. And while Scott’s husband had been all for taking family members in, it eventually affected their relationship and they’re now separated.
“This made it more difficult,” said Scott, who spent part of the recent holidays hosting her grandchildren and introducing Tianna to a local park to learn how to use the slide and engage with other children.
“What I took from my grandparents is it’s all about the children,” Scott said. “It’s a long road, it’s a struggle, but instead of pointing out this isn’t being done and harping on that isn’t being done, you focus on what do the children need and what can you do to help them. There are little kids involved. They need whatever support you can give and that is what I do.”
For more information: on the web, thegrannynannyguidebook.com.