Tips for grandparents on the road

I’m going to talk about grandchildren. It’s a topic that comes up a lot in grey nomad circles, for all kinds of reasons.

I have eight of them, ranging from 2 to 14. They’re all great kids and I enjoy their company. Their different personalities enrich our lives.

BUT- oh yes, there’s a “but” – I want to enjoy being a grandparent, which means that I don’t want to be a full-time babysitter. Moreover, we plan to spend around six months of every year on the road, which means babysitting becomes problematic.

This is what I had to point out to one of my children just last year, when they asked if I could help out by babysitting one day a week. The hours were short: from around 8.15 to 2 pm, so it wasn’t going to be onerous – not to mention that the boys are a joy. However, my immediate response was: “Yes, I can do that – but what’s your backup plan when we’re travelling? We’ll be on the road for around half of every year.” They found a way around that problem, so I’m just ‘on duty’ when we’re back home.

I cheerfully admit that I’m over the toddler stage. I enjoy kids more when they’re older. But on the other hand, by looking after preschoolers one day a week, we have the bonus of really getting to know them as they grow – and they us. I value that enormously.

A great many grey nomads face the dilemma of what to do about grandchildren. Some absolutely adore their grandchildren, and find it a wrench to be away from them for months at a time, no matter how much they enjoy the RV lifestyle. Others are in the sad situation of being able to travel for only one month of the year, and the odd weekend, because of full-time babysitting duties. I encountered one grandmother at the gym a few years ago, who told me that things were strained at home. She and her husband were at odds because they’d ended up selling their little-used caravan. “But I didn’t feel I had a choice,” she said. “The kids are really struggling. There was no one else. I wouldn’t feel right going off and enjoying myself when they needed help.”

In a similar situation, most of us would pitch in for a while or try to find another solution. But what if you’re babysitting not just to give your children a much-needed (and appreciated) helping hand? What if you’re putting your plans on hold while your offspring spend their income on late-model cars, expensive furnishings, overseas trips, or various ‘toys’? Perhaps that is when you need to start putting your own wants and dreams first.

A short time ago, I asked a question on Facebook: “Just wondering if anyone regularly takes away their grandchildren for short trips or weekends? If so, how do you organise the sleeping arrangements?”

Judging from the responses, there are plenty of nomads who not only take their grandchildren away with them on occasion, but enjoy it immensely. This could be a handy solution to being asked to babysit in school holidays – as long as you can find a caravan park that won’t charge premium holiday rates! There’s also the K.I.T. group (Kids in Tow) for Australian Caravan Club members: you can join in trips away with other families or grandparents with kids.

For Nan and Pop Nomads, there are many ways of connecting with your grandchildren at a distance. I see (and hear) plenty of them using FaceTime on iPads, or chatting on the phone. They catch up with older grandchildren via text messages or Facebook. They join in with birthday celebrations via Skype, and send photos back and forth.

From chatting to other grandparents on the road, I find that a great many of them are doing exactly what we do. They enjoy their grandchildren when they’re home, and help out where possible – but they don’t put their lives on hold.