Grandma is tired of cooking for all her grandson’s friends

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Q: My 14 year old grandson is an only child. He is kind, loyal and easy-going, and children gravitate around him. He is alone after school. (I live/my parents work nearby.) It’s not uncommon for him to have four or five kids in his room, four to five days a week. On school days, they arrive on the bus after school and stay until 8:30-9:00 p.m., when his parents come home from work. They often stay later on the weekends. They are respectful and well-behaved children.

Here’s my dilemma: When dinner time approaches, I want to feed my grandson, but neither I nor his parents can afford to feed all his friends, night after night. At the start of the school year, I made food for everyone, but it got too expensive and I started feeling resentful. Do their parents wonder who feeds their children? They never offered to feed the group. I believe if my grandson is home at mealtimes he is included, but that is not where they hang out; they want to hang out at his house.

I shared my feelings with my grandson. He understands, but he doesn’t know what to do. I coached him: Next time everyone is hungry, have one of the twins who seems to be there at dinnertime every Friday night call his parents to order a pizza for the band. I mean after each of their parents buys 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 revisited the book “Hunt, Gather, Parent” by Michaeleen Doucleff. In this one, there is a section where she lives with a Tanzanian tribe called the Hadzabe. This tribe is known for their use of “alloparenting”, the Greek root “allo” meaning “other”. Mothers and fathers, along with the adults of the tribe, share parental responsibilities. One of the details that I found special was that when a Hadzabe child wanders off, one of the adults follows the child from a safe distance to make sure they are safe. The child never knows! I thought of this tribe while reading your letter, because, as you know, you are alloparenting these teenagers. You provide them with a safe place and a meal, and this is deeply nourishing on many levels.

I feel your resentment loud and clear: “Do their parents wonder who feeds their children? They never offered to feed the group. I don’t blame you; it’s discouraging. Feeding multiple teenagers is no small feat. Your grocery bills can quickly add up and ordering pizza can get expensive. It’s easy to feel taken advantage of when the kids aren’t participating and no one thanks you. So what should you do?

First of all, if you can, I would change your perspective from the burden of housing and feeding these children to an opportunity to keep them safe and feed them. Teenagers can get into a lot of shenanigans if left on their own, and we don’t know what’s going on in these children’s homes. For all we know, being with your grandson could be a haven from emotional, sexual, and physical abuse. I don’t want to make you feel guilty for spending all your savings on food; it’s just a subtle shift in understanding what you’re providing.

Second, address the practical issues of food. I would find affordable recipes (spaghetti and meatballs, chili, soup), and put those teenagers to work chopping, mixing, boiling, etc. Fourteen-year-olds can be great leaders, and work can go quickly if they do it together. Ask them to find the highest value dinners that are consistently delicious and nutritious, then get them involved, relieving you of the burden. They should also help with the dishes. Ten hands can do a lot of work — fast.

Third, take a close look at your expenses. The money needs are real, so if we cut takeout, will the numbers start to improve a bit? If not, text the other parents saying, “I love that the kids are here and I’m happy to continue feeding them every night!” But they have teenage appetites and I need about $20 per child for the month. Here is my Venmo. I’ll speak for myself here: if I received this text, I would thank the parents profusely for feeding my child and immediately send the money (plus a little).

Here’s a caveat: If you think any of the teens have a parent who’s angry or abusive, or is in a more difficult economic situation than you, I’ll approach it cautiously or in another way. 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 declare that they must go home and eat at home on certain evenings. Announcement to the group: “Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are evenings to eat at my house! If it’s Tuesday or Thursday, you have to go at 7 p.m.

You never have to feed anyone, but try to see it as a short period in your life as a grandparent. You are creating wonderful memories for your grandson, and he will remember this generosity for years to come.

Do you have a question about parenthood? Ask for La Poste.

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