Chris Barrow, an attorney in Tulsa, has three small children with his wife, a doctor who runs the emergency room at a local hospital.
His brother, Trey, who also lives in Tulsa, works in the natural gas industry and has two little kids with his wife, a writer and editor.
“Everyone has a big job,” says Chris and Trey’s mother, Luanne, 64, a retired elementary school teacher in Tulsa.
So ever since her first grandchild, a girl, was born in 2009, Luanne has spent a lot of time babysitting.
A grandmother in Oklahoma finds babysitting both magical and tiring.
“I didn’t ever have daughters, so I am really, really big-time into dolls and dress-up kinds of things,” says Luanne, whose husband still works full-time as a lawyer. “I’ve got this big closet full of things, and then way more American Girl dolls than my husband even knows. So we play dolls, we have tea parties … I just love all that.”
Luanne, who’s originally from East Moline, Ill., grew up reveling in close relationships with all four of her grandparents, who lived just across the Mississippi River, in Iowa. But her own parents, who eventually moved to Arizona, didn’t play a big role in Chris and Trey’s upbringing in Tulsa. And though her husband’s parents also lived in Tulsa, they died when the boys were young.
“I had the four most incredibly wonderful grandparents in the entire world … and so it was very sad for me that my children didn’t have that here,” Luanne says. “I am in heaven that I’m getting to be hopefully a grandmother half as good as my grandmothers were,” she says.
Still, she gets tired sometimes.
“As much as I love it, I am so exhausted at the end of the day I can barely move,” says Luanne. “I’m twice as old as I was with my own children.”
When her first grandkid was born, Luanne spent three full days a week caring for her, but she found that she couldn’t sustain that.
“I really did have long days and I was getting kind of burned out. And I just thought, ‘Maybe I can’t do this anymore.’”
Then she read a book about how profoundly grandparents can influence their grandchildren, and she found herself reconsidering.
“It just motivated me. And I thought, I may be exhausted at the end of the day, but I want to do it with every one of them because the bond is so great.”
She cut back to two days a week of babysitting, which left her with enough time and energy to practice yoga, run errands, and hang out with her husband.
“It’s really important, I think, to only do what we want to do so that we don’t get resentful,” she says. “I want to see each grandchild every week but still be able to go to yoga and have my own life.”
She stuck with that schedule for several years, but nowadays, she’s not needed as much. Her eldest grandchild is in kindergarten; two other grandkids are in preschool; and the two babies recently started daycare. So Luanne is spending less time babysitting her grandkids and more time cherishing them, she says.
“I just feel so lucky,” she says. “What my grandparents gave to me, I want to give that to my grandchildren.”