How do I tell my sister that Mom is too stressed out watching her kids?
Given the results of a study in the Journal of Public Health, your instincts are exactly right about reaching out to your sister. In a study of nearly 14,000 women caring for grandchildren, epidemiologist Sunmin Lee, with the Harvard School of Public Health, found that “providing childcare just a few hours a day greatly increased risk of heart disease.” The risk of heart disease for grandmothers providing as little as nine hours of childcare per week is a dramatic 55 percent higher than for grandmas who don’t watch their grandkids.
The researchers suspect that the chronic stress from childcare is at the root of the problem. In most cases, Grandma’s adult child is working and relies on her to watch the children, making visiting with the grandkids a duty rather than an option. On days when Grandma doesn’t feel well, she still feels obligated to watch the kids so that her daughter or son can go to work. On the other hand, grandparents who are not involved with routine child care (routine is the operative word here) enjoy spoiling the grandkids on short visits while gleefully handing them back to their parents before the kids get tired and cranky.
Additionally, the stress of childcare can aggravate common aging health conditions of arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease: caregiving grandmas are twice as likely to have a heart attack. They also find it very difficult to make time for themselves. Caregiving grandmas don’t make regular health care check-ups or get to their doctor when they’re sick, and they don’t exercise or find the time to follow healthy lifestyle habits.
So, where do we go from here? Depending on your relationship with your sister, you may begin the discussion by talking about your mother’s general health. The results of a recent doctor’s appointment may be a helpful discussion starting-point, so that it’s not just about your impression. You may need to enlist the support of your mother’s physician, as he or she may not be aware of your mother’s stressful lifestyle. You could also tell your sister about the aforementioned study and share a copy
with her. Be careful not to blame your sister or act like she’s taking advantage of your mother. Chances are that your Mom isn’t letting on as to how stressful watching the kids has become, and doesn’t want to place an additional burden on your sister.
Offer to help your sister find other childcare arrangements, as this is seldom an easy thing to do. Perhaps your sister can begin by just cutting back your mother’s child care duties to a couple days a week. Of course, you should also include your mother in this discussion. Reassure her that in no way do you feel she’s inadequate at child-rearing. Instead, you and your sister want to protect her health and give her the added time to enjoy herself during her retirement. You also want to create opportunities for her to simply enjoy the kids the way that most grandmas do without the daily pressure of being responsible for them.