My Indian neighbors had a good life: Both were top executives at major corporations who frequently travelled to Europe, lived in an awesome house, AND had a wonderful child. Their secret? “Stay-at-home” grandparents.
Like many other Indian couples in the area, their parents had pushed them to achieve educational and career success. As they grew older, their parents helped them achieve these goals by caring for their children some days a week* so that both could continue to work. The relationship appeared to help everyone: The grandparents enjoyed being with family as they hit retirement; their children provided for them as they got older; grandchildren grew up with extended family. The parents did not abdicate their parenting: They set the house rules, managed homework, hired others to clean the house, etc..*
What my neighbors had seems ideal. Although my parents do not live nearby, I have pitched the idea of flying out my mother for some of the week to watch our children when they eventually come: It would allow me to work, cost no more than childcare, and ensure my children grow up with grandparents. My expectation would be that she could do fun things with them. Obviously, I wouldn’t be expecting her to do the cooking and cleaning.*
Because this arrangement seems like an optimal solution to issues ranging from working mothers to the break down of the extended family, I’ve been asking myself why Mormons do not adopt it more frequently. Perhaps the biggest barrier is family size.
Whereas grandparents that have only one or two children (as is generally the case in the Asian families I’ve seen adopt this model*) can provide long-term support for those children and their grandchildren, those that have more children simply cannot be physically present for all of them as they hit adulthood. Even in the rare family where adult children live in the same area as their parents, no one can consistently watch five sets of grandchildren. Moreover, if grandparents focus more of their time and financial resources on some of their children’s families than others, tension can ensue if one child feels unevenly treated. The biggest barrier to my idea of flying out my parents would likely be if my siblings wanted the same arrangement. Since we don’t live in the same area, we can’t all have it.
There is no right answer to parenting choices. But perhaps it is worth considering whether by having large nuclear families Mormons sacrifice having stronger long-term relationships between grandparents, children, and grandchildren.
*I have edited these sentences slightly in order to combat the misconception I generated that the grandparents were living in the house, that the parents were not the primary raisers of their grandchildren, or that I’d expect my mother to serve as my maid.