JOHANNESBURG, South Africa / The Star / September 9, 2010
By Liz Hodgkinson
Eagerly looking forward to a dreamy dinner with a friend, my thoughts were interrupted by the phone ringing.
"Mu-um?" came the plaintive cry at the other end of the line, "I don't suppose you could do any babysitting this weekend?"
"Certainly not," I replied briskly. "You know I need a month's notice. I have got my own life, you know."
The fact that granny has her own life and doesn't want to be a perpetual unpaid babysitter is something my grown-up children find hard to accept. But the fact is that while I love all the grandchildren dearly, I am a reluctant grandmother.
As one of the original baby-boomers, I have always lived my own life and, selfish to the last, I intend to carry on doing so.
I'm now one of the SWOFTIES, it seems - single women over 50 who like clubbing, Twitter and exotic holidays. This means I am far from being the cuddly, all-indulgent granny of popular image, dispensing sweets from the tin on the sideboard as the grandchildren lay waste to my house while I smile fondly at them.
Instead, I - in common with many of my contemporaries - am spending my freedom years eagerly embarking on new adventures.
In fact, my life in my seventh decade is far more liberated, action-packed and exciting than those of my two sons and their partners, weighed down as they are with endless childcare and work worries.
In 2000, when I felt an unexpected surge of love for my two new grandchildren after never having wanted to be a granny, I didn't think about what the next decade would bring.
Now there are five (three boys, two girls) very different and increasingly complex little individuals aged between 10 and nearly six - and, of course, their demanding fortysomething parents.
When the latter ring to ask if I can look after the kids while they flit off, I tell them I will have to look in my crowded diary first to see whether it's me who is flitting off instead.
I am single, have been divorced for 20 years and should somebody suitable come along, I'm up for it.
What my sons' generation have to understand is that we, the grannies of today, are a completely different breed from those of yesteryear.
It's time to ditch the traditional image of the white-haired old lady in her rocking chair complaining about her rheumatism and replace it with the modern version: slim, glamorous, fit, on-trend and on the treadmill, the cellphone or the computer.
I shop in Gap and Zara; I don't do pleated skirts and wrinkled stockings; I have moved to a smart new flat with pale-coloured carpets, sofas and curtains.
It's all immaculate, not particularly child-friendly and I want it to stay like that. So if I do agree to have the grandchildren to stay - if - it's on my terms.
I don't want sticky fingers all over my designer décor, cushion fights in the living room, play paints splashed all over the place, or mayhem created in their bedrooms for me to clear up.
They will also have to eat up what's put in front of them, or go without, and early bedtimes for them are a must - after all, I want to be able to sit down with my glass or two of wine rather than reading bedtime stories.
Mind, there is one grandmotherly diktat that they obey instantly. The grandchildren tell me that they are not allowed to watch television at home. I say that in my house the situation is quite the opposite, and they will be forced to watch TV while I get on with my writing, e-mailing, Skypeing and Tweeting.
I admit that I'm not proving to be that good a grandmother. But in this I am not alone.
Novelist and playwright Rosemary Friedman, now in her 80s and still working as hard as ever, writes in her forthcoming memoir Life's A Joke: "I am not interested in being an unpaid nanny, to spend my days making fairy cakes and digging sandcastles second time round.
"Because I am always at home and seem a natural babysitting target, the guidelines have been firmly established.
"I am unwilling and reluctant to let my diminishing time and energy be usurped by 10 grandchildren."
I wonder how many more of today's grannies secretly feel the same? - Daily Mail
Guidelines for reluctant grannies
So, after 10 years' experience, here are my rules :
. Be very careful not to pitch yourself as an ever-available babysitter or their parents (who are, of course, your own children) will be ruthless in dumping them on you for days on end.
. Never ever offer to have the grandchildren; you can rely on your children to ask - and they always will.
. Insist that your time is as precious as anybody else's, and if they say they will pick up the kids at 4pm, it means 4pm, not 6pm. They must stick to strict times or you won't be so willing again.
. Make sure you spread your favours evenly and don't have one lot more than the other, or you could be accused of favouritism. In any case, be careful to treat each child absolutely equally, with birthday presents, treats and outings.
. However fond of your grandchildren you may be, there is not the same fierce bond as there was with your own children. You won't miss them if you don't see them more than once or twice a year.
. You have to draw a fine line between pleasing the children and not upsetting their parents, especially with food. They love pizzas, ice cream, doughnuts, triple-chocolate cereal - everything they are probably not allowed at home. Make it clear that in your home, your rules prevail. You no longer cook and you will only give the grandchildren convenience foods.
. If you are a single grandparent, it is very boring and lonely looking after them on your own and the days pass extremely slowly, so bear this in mind before agreeing to have them to stay for long stretches.
Originally published in The Daily Mail
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