Grandparents can be lifesavers to a divorced parent, and it's a great chance to see your grandchildren. If you want to maximize time with your grandchildren, don't take sides in the divorce. Your ex daughter- or son-in-law will be much more willing to let you be close to your grandchildren if you aren't seen as being "against" him or her.
Grandparents have few legal rights, so your contact with your grandchildren depends on the goodwill of their parents. Also, if you're close to your ex daughter- or son-in-law, don't express it as anger toward your own child or any new partner they may have. I advise my clients to "be Switzerland' -- that is, stay neutral, so all people involved will feel comfortable around you.
On the other hand, you deserve to have your own life so don't let your grandchildren become a burden. It's still their parents' job to raise them, not yours. Learn to say 'no' to babysitting when you have your own plans, are too ill or tired, or just want some time to yourself. Seeking balance in your grandparent responsibilities is the key. Unless there's some compelling need, such as an ailing parent or a working parent who cannot afford childcare, grandparents should not volunteer to sit more than they want to. The point is to enjoy your grandchildren, and not be burdened by them.
If there is a compelling need, and you feel overwhelmed as grandparents caring for your grandchildren, feel free to hire childcare for part of the time if you can afford it. You need respite, too. Anything that feels burdensome and not enjoyable to the grandparents is too much, unless of course there is a compelling reason to take on more care.
If things are going well, you want to see your grandchildren in order to enjoy them and bond with them -- if they overtax you, then you're doing too much. Parents and grandparents should be in agreement about rules and discipline, so they can back each other up, and the children need to be reminded each time they transition from one house to another that the rules are changing.
If the children like being at Granny's, then simply saying they can't come if they don't behave might be enough of a threat to keep them in line. Or, you can take away TV time, assign extra chores, etc. Punishment works best if it fits the crime (if you can't behave at the dinner table, you will not have any dessert, or if you don't do your homework, you won't be able to watch your favorite TV program or use the phone). If you use the same methods the parents are using, that will be familiar to the children already, and easier to enforce.Tina Tessina, Ph.D., has been a licensed California psychotherapist for more than 30 years. She's authored more than 11 books, including "Money, Sex and Kids." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.