When my kids were little, it seemed like my wife and I were constantly and frantically juggling daycare and illness.
There’s no pleasant way to put this, but let’s just say there was a lot of vomit involved. This was of course in the 1980s, when the concept of “remote work” was a euphemism for simply not working. So we got very good at making bargains with each other.
“If you stay home him with him today, I’ll stay home tomorrow.”
“If you stay home with her, you can sleep late on Saturday.”
Flash forward to this year when our daughter, the mother of our two grandsons (8 and 6), called to let us know her nanny had given two weeks’ notice.
Our daughter had interviews lined up with a few nanny options, but nobody great had taken the position yet. A few weeks after that, with no nanny on board, we grandparents kicked into gear to help.
First, my son-in-law’s parents stayed with them for a week, dropping the kids off for the morning school bus, picking them up in the afternoon, taking them to lessons, sports practices, and on and on.
Then it was our turn. My wife and I packed up our laptops and headed off, picking up where the other grandparents had left off, kind of like a marathon race with senior citizens running and passing off the baton, except the baton was lunch boxes and backpacks or the bag for swim practice or soccer shin guards or, wait, there was something else, oh forget it the school bus is coming!
In short, the mad dash of our child rearing years comes back full bore, quickly morphing out of memory to a very present and urgent reality.
And here’s the thing: I loved every minute of it. One day one our youngest grandson couldn’t go to school because of a lingering cough. I let me clients know I was going to be in meetings all day and not available for calls. This was true, but I omitted the fact that my meetings were with my grandson.
When we got back to the house, my grandson wrote with invisible ink in his diary, played with dinosaurs, and watched My Little Pony.
Out of all the packed days I’ve had at work over the past 30 years, this was one of my most productive and enjoyable. I’m confident that if I live to be 99, chances are I won’t look back on that day and wish I’d spent it making more money.
It turns out there’s evidence that babysitting grandchildren, at least periodically babysitting them versus full time, has been shown to help grandparents live longer. The researchers don’t know why that’s the case, but the data backs it up.
I have my own theory and it’s pretty simple: Helping our kids with the grandkids renews our sense of purpose.
We like knowing that we’re needed and loved. Just as important, being with our grandkids—even if they have hacking coughs—is a recipe for joy. And joy is a very healthy thing, not just for us grandparents but for everyone.
The next day, my grandson was feeling much better and went off to school with his older brother. My wife and I waved to them as the school bus drove off, then we want back to our other jobs.