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The thankless job of a grandparent: “It’s exhausting, but I can’t say no”

Spanish illustrator Joly Navarro Rognoni is using humor to showcase how seniors often feel obligated to care for their grandchildren, whether they are willing to or not

los abuelos
‘Abueland,’ by Joly Navarro Rognoni.

Joly Navarro Rognoni is an illustrator who decided to use satirical cartoons to showcase the difficulties of work-life balance that many grandparents in Spain face. One of the works included inside her cartoon project is Abueland, a series of illustrations about how we often offload childcare to grandparents. “I started, like all mothers, to think and realize that not everything was rosy,” she explains via a telephone conversation. “My parents went out of their way for my son, who was their first grandchild, they were really happy. But when I had my second, I realized they were exhausted.

“Sometimes I would watch grandparents talking in the park. And they would say, ‘I’m exhausted, but I don’t want to say no to my children.’” Are we denying this “Slave Grandparent Syndrome?” For Navarro, that’s the case. And although Spanish society is aware of this problem, it’s not clear enough.

There are many forms of social criticism. “I decided to do it through humor, because it’s an easy and direct way to ensure that people will think about this,” says Navarro, whose ambition is “to put a face and, why not, a smile to a real and complex situation.” “It’s my way of criticizing the lack of work-life balance not only suffered by parents or businesses, but also endured, albeit often with a smiling face, by grandparents,” she explains.

The following cartoons come with comments by the author.

The ‘Super Granny’

The thankless job of a grandparent: “It’s exhausting, but I can’t say no”

There they are, putting the needs of others above their own. Without giving it a second thought, they fly to wherever their timely assistance is needed, or to cover impossible schedules of childcare. They would never say it out loud, because we assume that that’s what they’re supposed to do, but their exhaustion is evident in the dark circles under their eyes and in their joy at seeing us come through the door to pick up the little ones. They are the base of the iceberg that supports a model of work and life that is incompatible with parenting. And this, unless you look closely, often goes unnoticed.

- Dad, when you go to town, please put the child safety seat on your bike

- Yes, of course darling

The thankless job of a grandparent: “It’s exhausting, but I can’t say no”

The new forms of parenting coexist with the traditional ways of the generations that came before us. Finding the right balance is not always easy. We ask them to take care of our children, but not in any old way: in our way. Abueland captures these situations with the goal of self-critique through humor and to find common ground between fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, who sometimes grow apart for these kind of reasons.

Water aerobics

The thankless job of a grandparent: “It’s exhausting, but I can’t say no”

Grandparents are still occupied with the little ones during their own leisure activities.

After-school activities

The thankless job of a grandparent: “It’s exhausting, but I can’t say no”

At 7pm, whether in biodance or mindfulness classes for children, you can always find grandparents giving it their all.

And one marvelous point in common... Opposites attract

The thankless job of a grandparent: “It’s exhausting, but I can’t say no”

Childhood and old age are the two poles of life, and in spite of their tremendous distance, they’re so similar! Their calm pace and availability of time are two common elements. In contrast to the frantic pace of life prevailing in our society, their slower rhythm allows them to stop, observe details in silence and enjoy simple, everyday things.

English version by Alicia Kember.

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