Good childcare can be difficult to find these days. It is not only expensive, sometimes it can be unreliable as well. Even though both my daughters are enrolled at daycare, there are days when both girls need to stay home because they are either sick, there’s a snowstorm raging out there, or someone in class tested positive for COVID and everyone else has to self-quarantine at home. This can often cause problems for working parents because there’s only a finite amount of personal time off that we can take. This is where a grandparent might be asked to step in to help out.
If you’re one of the lucky parents with your child’s grandparents close by, chances are, you might have asked them to step in to provide childcare or babysit on some days. If grandparents are willing, who better to care for your children? There’s no need to go through interviews or check references. At the same time, you know that your children are in good hands if they are being cared for by grandparents. It is also a great chance for your children to get to know their grandparents, and for grandparents to spend some quality time with grandkids.
However, we can’t take grandparents for granted. It can get messy if you skip some considerations before you turn another family member to an older version of Mary Poppins. Here are some things to consider when asking grandparents to be your chief babysitter:
1. Ask the question
Don’t always assume that grandparents are dying to help with babysitting needs. Even though grandparents adore their own grandchildren, sometimes they are just not up for it. After all, being a caregiver is different from being a grandparent. Being a caregiver means more responsibilities, and less personal time for themselves.
2. Consider grandparents’ health
Caring for a child or children can be exhausting. Both my daughters are so active, and even as a young parent, I often feel like I can’t keep up with them. Imagine how hard it is going to be for grandparents if they have to babysit all day long, five days a week!
If grandparents have health problems, consider if the issue is going to impact their ability to care for your children. Even if there are no health problems, try coming up with some ways to make babysitting easier for them. For example, plan activities that don’t require grandparents to run after your children.
3. Decide how long grandparents will be helping
Even though some grandparents are not working, and may be retired, they may not want to spend the rest of the next few years babysitting. Determine the length of time in which they will be helping out. It could be a few weeks, a few months, or even a year, but make sure you establish it right from the start so that expectations are clear and they can plan for their lives.
4. Talk about compensation
Most grandparents will probably reject the idea of getting paid, but some parents will feel better if they pay a small amount as a token of appreciation. For example, you could consider paying $300 a week to grandparents to cover gas and food. It’s still a bargain compared to full-time daycare fees. This is a win-win for all – grandparents get additional cash for their expenses, and you get to save on daycare tuition.
If grandparents refuse to accept money, consider doing other things to show your appreciation. For example, my mother-in-law helps out with babysitting whenever we need her, but she does not want to take a single cent from us. In this instance, we compensate her by helping with grocery runs, or by including her on family trips. We also help by tackling home-maintenance chores for her.
5. Lay the ground rules
This is when things might get tricky. You don’t want to treat grandparents like they are your employees, but at the same time, it’s important to lay ground rules to avoid conflicts down the road.
For example, you and grandparents might have a different parenting approach. Grandparents might think it’s OK to let your baby suck on the bottle as they fall asleep, but it’s not OK as it might lead to tooth decay and you should be firm about this.
Also, car seats were not a common thing in the past, so grandparents might think it’s OK to have kids ride in the car without one, but you should insist on one as it is the law now. Install a car seat in their car and show them how to properly buckle your child.
However, beyond the must-follow rules, you should consider giving grandparents some leeway to make decisions and plan the day. You don’t have to lay out the schedule to the minute unless they request for it. Allow grandparents to play it by ear for some activities. If they are feeling up for a walk around the neighborhood, why not let them take your children out for some sunshine?
6. Provide directions
It may be 20 to 30 years since your parents have cared for a little human being, so grandparents might need a little reminder on how to do some things when it comes to babies and toddlers.
For example, back in their days, it was perfectly normal to place baby on their tummies, but the new guidance now is to place baby on their back to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Show them how it should be done prior to leaving the baby with them.
For babies, some basic tips to provide include how to change diapers, how to swaddle properly, how to prepare a bottle and how to put babies to sleep.
7. Keep things simple
If you have an au-pair working for you, she might clean, cook, drive your kids to and from school, and bring them to their extra-curricular activities. With grandparents, keep these activities simple because they might not be able to handle everything.
For example, when my mother-in-law babysits for us, we just expect her to stay home and watch the kids. We prepare all the meals and activities before-hand, and we don’t expect her to take the kids out unless she wants to do it.
8. Have a backup plan
Even grandparents agreed to watch the kids, you should always have plan B in place. Grandparents have needs after all. They might need to go for a doctor’s appointment, or they might not be feeling well for that day, and you should never be upset if that happens.
9. Review every few months and offer an out
Although grandparents agreed to watch your children for say, a year, be considerate and have an honest discussion every few months to review your expectations going forward. Grandparents might change their minds after a few months, but they might feel guilty for saying no. In this instance, be prepared to revisit your backup plan and assure them it’s OK.
Asking grandparents to babysit can change relationships. If grandparents can and are willing to babysit, be considerate and respectful. Be clear and honest in all your communications and be sure to discuss expectations. After all, grandparents are one of the very few people who will be 100% invested in your children, so having them around your children can be beneficial. I’m sure you would want this experience to be pleasant and memorable for everyone.
Have you used grandparents as caregivers before? What other advice would you consider giving to other working parents who are interested in asking grandparents to babysit? Share you comments below. I would love to hear from you!
Considering daycare instead for your little one? Check out my other post for some tips on how to pick a daycare.