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Grandparents as Daycare – How to Maintain Your Relationship While Sharing the Care of Your Kids

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Are you a mom who has a job outside the home? What do you do when you are a professional with outside responsibilities as well as a mother? If you are considering asking your parents or in-laws to help with the childcare, make sure you think it through and discuss it before taking the leap.

I made the decision to work part time and mother full time when my first was born. It wasn’t an easy decision, but I wanted to stay active in my career while also taking care of my baby. You could say I was trying to have it all.

While I was pregnant, I visited several daycare centers. One was beautiful, clean and staffed with grandmothers. Problem – it cost more than my mortgage, more than I made a month working part time. Another had a “baby room” which had cribs lined in rows. One end of the crib was cutout and filled with plexiglass so the care provider could keep an eye on the babies from the rocking chair in the back. They could only feed one at a time. There were babies crawling on the floor, babies lying in cribs. It was a scene straight out of Raising Arizona. I left in tears.

That’s when we turned to my husband’s retired parents for help. Many working parents look to their parents for help with the kids. Even Michelle Obama moved her mother into the White House to help take care of her family. Many feel their arrangement is better than regular daycare. But you have to make sure it is set up correctly to succeed.

My in-laws graciously volunteered to help watch our baby while I worked a few days a week. I went back to work when my daughter was 3 months old. I want to say it was torture to leave her, and it was, but I also liked having some time for myself. She had colic and a sensitive tummy. That kid could cry, and she did.

My poor in-laws had to suffer with a kid who wanted to nurse exclusively, rejected bottles and wouldn’t sleep without being rocked. I know they worked incredibly hard to take care of her. They would tell me stories of laying her in a bassinet while one sat on the floor on one side and dangled a rattle over her while the other one sneaked a bottle in her mouth from the other.

As she moved towards toddler-hood and began to eat regular food, they wanted to spoil her and took her out for fast food almost every day. This caused her some distress and she and I would suffer through tantrums for hours every evening.

This was a difficult topic to broach with my in-laws. She was under their care, in their home and we didn’t pay them for their services. I truly believed that they just wanted to spoil her and give her the grandparent treatment. But because they were doing daycare for us, I expected them to take on a care provider role instead.

Almost 10 years later looking back I can see the error of my ways. Having my in-laws take care of both daughters was wonderful on one hand – the girls formed a deep bond with their grandparents. The girls are as comfortable at their grandparents’ house as they are at home.

On the other hand, we should have paid them for daycare and set up our expectations before we ever started. We should have at least tried to draw some lines between the grandparent and care taker roles.

It’s hard to tell your parents how to parent your children, especially when you are a brand-spanking-new parent and they have done it for over 30 years.

It’s also a delicate situation to tell your parents that you aren’t happy with how they are caring for your child. They don’t really like it and you still have to sit across from them during Thanksgiving dinner.

We chose to use my in-laws as our daycare provider because we knew our children were being cared for by someone who deeply loved them. You won’t find this in a daycare center. Even with the frustration we would sometimes feel, it was still comforting to know the girls were in a loving environment and not sitting in cribs with pleixglass ends.

Here are some tips and discussion points to go over before you use grandparents for daycare:

Will you pay for their services?
I didn’t do this but believe this helps level the playing field. Your parents are now your employees. Even agreeing to cover your child’s expenses, like gas money for taking them to activities, picking up, etc. and groceries help.

Be prepared to provide additional supplies
Make sure grandparents have extra set of clothes, car seats, day beds and whatever else they may need for taking care of your child.

Define boundaries and discipline
Grandma and Grandpa can’t give the kids ice cream for breakfast everyday and let the kids watch TV when they are grounded. Make sure the rules are in place before you start. There must be an understanding that rules will be followed in both homes. Grandparent-grandchild rule free time shouldn’t be everyday. Settling an agreement will help minimize problems, gives a structure for what is expected and sets up a means of communications. One friend told me her dad would use a dry erase board and write a grade based on how the day went. She knew how the day went without even asking.

Set a schedule and stick to it
How often will you need them and when? Is it 5 days a week? Three half days? Choose a schedule and stick to it. Call if you are stuck at the office and will be later than 5 to pick up. Remember this isn’t drop in daycare. Grandparents need to understand that providing daycare is a responsibility and they lose their freedom to pick up and leave for a vacation. Vacations should be planned well in advance. Sometimes a trial run is helpful to see if both grandparents, parents and children will be content in the situation before committing to a regular thing.

Communicate
Ask your parents how they are doing. Ask them about how your child behaves while there. Work with them to make sure everyone stays content with the arrangement. Everyone must keep an open mind and be prepared to compromise. Tweak anything that isn’t working.

Be aware of germs and spreading bugs
Your parents may not have the same resistance to germs that you have and your children are expert germ spreaders. Don’t drop them on the doorstep with a fever without calling first and asking permission to bring a sick child for the day.

 

Susan Wells
Author: Susan Wells

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Comments
  • comment avatar Amber Johnson August 31, 2011

    These are great tips, Susan. I see this as being a slippery slope. Of course, it is optimal for kids to be with family vs. daycare but sometimes I see a lot of moms taking advantage of the situation and being really demanding. Particularly when they’re not paying their parents/in-laws. Many moms are in dire need for the help and I think it’s great when family can step in.

    On the other hand, I have friends who have successful careers and work 40+ hours who could easily pay for a nanny to alleviate some of the strain on her parents but she doesn’t. Personally when I’m a grandma, I’ll be more than happy to watch my grandchildren once or twice a week but I don’t plan on spending my Golden Years raising them!

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  • comment avatar Michael Barnard October 26, 2012

    Having a part a of your family to look after your child will really have you feel at ease. But then their efforts and concern for you as well as the love must not be taken advantage. Child Day Care was made so that Grandmas should have taken their day off already.

    Yet the decision is still yours. Thanks for this gratitude for grandparents act of love.

  • comment avatar azim abdul November 18, 2015

    I do think the government should give grandparents more help – a massive amount of time is contributed for free, enabling women to get back to work without prohibitive childcare costs.

    My own mum – an extremely spritely 72 – travels approx two and a half hours by train and bus every week to spend Tuesdays looking after my two-year-old son. It’s a tremendous help to us, and saves us huge amounts of money, but the best thing is that her grandson gets to spend lots of time with her, clearly adores her, and has fed ducks in every park and eaten chocolate biscuits in every cafe in our bit of London. Although this is a big commitment for her, I don’t think she’d give it up for anything.

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