Dear Rachel,

I love my grandchildren, and for the past few years I have always been around to help with babysitting, but now I feel that I have been signed up as a near constant free-babysitter and I don’t want that kind of commitment. I had hoped to start taking some classes this coming year and participate with the sisterhood at our synagogue, but when I excitedly told my daughter, she seemed upset and told me she expected that I would be around to watch her baby while she went to work. Now I am not sure what I should do…

Torn Grandma

Dear Torn Grandma,

The ability to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives and watch them grow is a blessing unparalleled. It is said that our children are our investment and our grandchildren are our dividends. Although in terms of your grandchildren, it sounds to me like you are still investing quite a bit.

Within every relationship, there are limits that need to be set. To some very kind-loving souls the very concept of setting limits sounds like a rigid and heartless process. But, when viewed with the right eyes, limitations can be extremely liberating. For example, a woman who is in a constant giving-mode may find herself exhausted and depleted if she does not refresh herself and replenish her strength. Setting limits about when you give, how you give, to whom and how much you give will not only provide you with a more honest relationship but, it can actually allow you to give more efficiently.

So too with your responsibilities as a grandmother. It is wonderful that you have been able to give so much time to your grandchildren. G‑d should bless you with many more long healthy years to continue to be an active part of their lives. But, when grandma is feeling depleted or taken advantage of, she’s not likely to give at the level she (or they) would like. We all need to set limits for ourselves that will enable us to be our best selves.

We were created to imbue this physical world with truth and virtue. That is our life’s mission. Our Sages teach that the way to achieve true happiness is through spiritual growth and achievement. That means, giving to others, loving and sharing and finding deeper meaning in everything that you do. The activities you have expressed interest in for this coming year sound like wonderful opportunities for growth and achievement.

Rabbi Judah HaNassi would say: “Which is the right path for man to choose for himself? Whatever is harmonious for the one who does it, and harmonious for mankind.” It is crucial to find internal harmony, both for yourself and your family. You need to understand that by putting yourself first you are not neglecting your family, you are making yourself a better person.

There are no hard and fast rules about where our grand-parenting responsibilities should begin and end. Every grandmother will find her comfort zone. When the Lubavitcher Rebbe spoke of aging and retirement, he said “you can nourish your soul by setting aside a time each day to study and pray, and feed your mind and your heart, and share your life with your grandchildren.” It is important to realize that this is not necessarily an “all or none” situation. After you have a clearer understanding of what your schedule may be, you’ll know when you’ll have time to spend with the grandchildren.

We all want to do the right thing for our family. Trying something new and soul-nourishing for yourself may just wind up being great for everyone. Blessings of success and harmony to you on whichever path you choose.

Rachel