Here’s my dilemma: When it comes time for dinner, I want to feed my grandson, but neither I nor his parents can afford to feed all his friends night after night. At the beginning of the school year, I cooked food for everyone, but it became too expensive and I started to get angry. Do their parents think about who will feed their children? They never offered to feed the group. I think if my grandchild is at their house at mealtime that’s where he belongs, but that’s not where they hang out; they want to hang out at his house.
I shared my feelings with my grandson. He understands, but he’s not sure what to do. I taught him: next time everyone’s hungry, ask one of the twins, who seem to be there for dinner every Friday night, to call their parents to order pizza for the group. I want to say that after each of their parents bought dinner for the group, I will buy dinner again, but I don’t know how realistic that is. We don’t know what to do.
A: I looked at the book Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleff. In it there is a section where she lives with a Tanzanian tribe called Hadzabe. This tribe is known for its use of “alloparenting,” where the Greek root “allo” means “other.” The mothers and fathers and adults in the tribe share the responsibilities of parenting. One of the details I particularly found was that if a Hadzabe child wanders off, one of the adults follows the child at a safe distance to make sure the child is safe. The kid never knows! I was thinking of that tribe when I read your letter because, do you know, you alloparent these teenagers. They provide them with a safe place and a meal, and that is deeply nourishing on many levels.
I feel your resentment loud and clear: “Do their parents think about who will feed their children? They never offered to feed the group.” I don’t blame you; that’s discouraging. Feeding multiple teenagers is no small feat. Your grocery bills can add up fast, and pizza orders can get expensive. It’s easy to feel taken advantage of when the kids aren’t helping out and nobody thanks you. So what should you do?
First, if you can, I would change your perspective from a burden to house and feed these children to an opportunity to keep them safe and fed. There are many shenanigans that teenagers can get into when left to their own devices and we don’t know what happens in the homes of these children. As far as we know, being with your grandson could be a sanctuary from emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. I don’t want to blame you for spending your life savings on food; it’s just a subtle change in understanding of what you’re providing.
Second, address the practical issues of eating. I would find affordable recipes (spaghetti and meatballs, chili, soup) and I would put these teenagers to work cutting, blending, cooking, whatever. Fourteen-year-olds can be great cooks, and things can go fast when they do it together. Task them with finding the highest quality dinners that are still delicious and nutritious, then involve them in relieving yourself of the burden. You should also help with the dishes. Ten hands can do a lot of work – fast.
Third, take a close look at your spending. The cash need is real, so the numbers look a little better if we remove takeout? If not, text the other parents and say, “I love that the kids are here and look forward to continuing to feed them every night! But they have an appetite for teenagers, and I need about $20 per kid for the month. Here’s my Venmo.” I’ll speak for myself here: If I received this message, I would thank the parents profusely for feeding my child and send the money (plus some) right away.
Here’s a caveat: If you think any of the teens have a parent who is angry or abusive, or is in a tougher economic situation than you, I would approach it cautiously or differently. For example, can another family provide food? Think carefully before sending this text, as it could cause more trouble than it’s worth.
Finally, you are allowed to explain that on certain nights they have to go home and eat in their own homes. Announce to the group, “Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are dinner at my house night! If it is tuesday or thursday you have to leave at 7pm.”
You are never obligated to support anyone, but try to see this as a short time in your grandparent life. You create wonderful memories for your grandson and he will remember this generosity for years to come.
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https://www.washingtonpost.com/parenting/2022/07/06/grandma-dinner-teen-friends/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_lifestyle Why do I have to feed all my grandson’s friends?