DEAR CAROLINE: We are always expected to babysit

Q My son is in his late 20s and works hard in a good job, but it doesn’t pay very well so he lives at home with us. He has a girlfriend of three years, and they have discussed moving into rented accommodation together, which, in London, is expensive. She is sweet and my husband and I are really fond of her.

She also has a demanding public-sector job that doesn’t pay well. However, her parents are comfortably off and have decided to downsize and give their daughter a big deposit for a flat. She’s suggested that my son could move in and pay rent to help with the mortgage. 

It would be a much nicer place than he could otherwise afford. But our son has his doubts and fears the dynamic in their relationship would change. He says he would be happy to live somewhere together on equal terms, but he feels awkward about becoming his girlfriend’s tenant. He also thinks that her successful father looks down on him a little and this wouldn’t help. 

They’ve talked about taking out a joint mortgage for the rest of the flat but he is starting to feel pressured into making a big commitment and is worried it will put a strain on their relationship.

 A It is indeed a dilemma. Financial situations like this are delicate and your son is right: the dynamic would undoubtedly change. In the worst-case scenario, if your son became his girlfriend’s tenant, it could mean that she makes all the decisions on the flat – the decorating, bills etc – while he ends up feeling that his voice is unimportant. 

This, in turn, might lead to your son becoming defensive or resentful. Some men can even feel a bit emasculated not to be seen as having the same financial means as their partner (especially with the girlfriend’s wealthy father hovering in the background). However, you say she is a sweet girl, so this scenario is unlikely.

As long as they talk everything through and have an agreement to be equal partners (and keep that on track), they could still try living together like this. And, if it didn’t work, he could move out without financial loss. 

Commitment, though, is the real issue, and I wonder if his girlfriend is also reluctant to make that move as she initially suggested he could be her tenant. Or perhaps she is hoping that a willingness to share a mortgage could be a precursor to a marriage proposal. But your son sounds as though he is not ready to commit quite yet, and this needs to be explored.

If they really wanted to be life partners, then a big deposit on a flat that they could both invest in would be fantastic. However, if he is not sure, a joint mortgage is unwise. If this is not the relationship they both want long term, it is less painful to make that decision sooner rather than later.

We are always expected to babysit

Q My husband and I (both early 60s) retired four years ago. Since then, two grandchildren have arrived. Our two sons are constantly asking us to look after their little ones.  We can’t arrange to go out anywhere and I’m feeling very resentful. I am even considering a part-time job. My husband is a soft touch who can’t say no and our lives are not our own any more. How do we deal with this?

A Your very brief letter poses so many other questions.

I can see that you were really looking forward to time on your own with your husband and this freedom now feels curtailed, which is understandably difficult. However, what you don’t mention is whether your grandchildren bring you any joy. The majority of grandparents who write to me talk about their deep love for their grandchildren and often sadness at not being a bigger part of their lives. 

So it is hard to know whether you would love to spend time with them if it wasn’t so constant (and if your sons are perhaps taking advantage) or whether you really feel as though it is not your job to look after them at all. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between. 

Your sons clearly trust you and your husband to look after their kids, which is a great compliment, and I hope that your grandchildren do indeed bring you happiness. So, really, this is a question of setting some boundaries. 

You cannot, of course, constantly put off your own plans, so try to agree with your husband which times you want to keep for yourselves, including seeing friends and any special trips. Tell your sons clearly that these days are sacrosanct, but that you will be happy to babysit at other times.

If you have a problem, write to Caroline West-Meads at YOU, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY, or email You can follow Caroline on X/Twitter @Ask_Caroline_

Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally