Things to Consider When Grandparents Provide Child Care

Grandfather playing with grandchildren, sitting on toy car
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If you're lucky enough to have your child's grandparents living nearby, chances are they've already stepped in to provide child care at some point. Babysitting can offer a wonderful opportunity for your children and your parents to strengthen their relationship.

At the same time, you gain peace of mind knowing that your kids are being loved and well cared-for. Whether grandparents babysit occasionally or supply full-time care, here are things to consider when having grandparents watch your children.

Discuss Payment

It can be a blessing to have grandparents who are able and willing to watch your kids while you're away. Letting them know how much you appreciate their time and efforts is important.

While most grandparents won't expect to be paid for occasional babysitting, it is reasonable for them to be paid if they provide ongoing or full-time care for the kids. After all, babysitting is a job. As such, it requires them to fulfill certain responsibilities and to keep a schedule.

They may expect to either be paid or have an agreeable in-kind exchange. Have an open discussion about expectations for compensation, keeping in mind what you feel is reasonable and what you're able to pay or provide them for child care.

Anticipate and Prepare for the Challenges

Watching after a child can be exhausting, especially if you have more than one. You may be concerned about whether the grandparents can keep pace. After all, sometimes it's difficult for parents to keep up with their own kids!

If your child's grandparents have health problems or other concerns that may impact their ability to care for your children, try coming up with some ways to make the tasks easier for them. For example, you can plan activities that don't require much in the way of physical strength or stamina on the grandparents' part.

They could take your kids to the playground or pool (as long as the children are capable swimmers and a lifeguard is on duty), do art projects together, or watch a movie. In addition, you can move the supplies needed to care for babies or toddlers to one level of your home if their grandparents have trouble with stairs.

By getting creative and thinking of what would make the job easier, even grandparents who aren't as agile as you are can safely care for your children. Ask them in advance if they feel uncomfortable with anything. That way you can address their concerns and make sure they are set up for success.

Grandparents also need to discuss any health concerns that could be a risk to themselves or the children, such as seizures, memory problems, or falling. From a safety standpoint, parents and grandparents need to decide ahead of time if babysitting is in the best interests of everyone involved.

Give Them Authority

Part of the fun of being a grandparent is doting on and even spoiling your grandkids. But there is a difference between coming for a visit and being in charge.

When your child's grandparents are responsible for their care, it's important for your kids to know that they are expected to follow the same rules that you have when their grandparents aren't there—and that their grandparents will enforce them. Whether it's bedtime, no sweets before meals, or no jumping on the couch, the rules should be consistent.

Chances are, grandparents want to respect your rules. That means they need to know what those rules are and feel that they have the authority to tell the grandkids "no" when necessary. Reinforcing this idea with your kids can also help them respect their grandparents and your rules while you're gone.

Keep It Simple

While you might expect a nanny to do housekeeping, take the kids to various appointments, and come up with activities throughout the day, this may be asking too much of grandparents. Many factors will influence what you're expecting of grandparent-led child care such as the age and ability of both the kids and grandparents, whether or not you're paying the grandparents, and how often the grandparents babysit.

For example, if grandparents watch your kids five days a week and you work long hours, they may need to give younger children a bath. If they don't babysit that often or don't feel physically up to the task, you may agree that bath time can be skipped when the kids are in their care.

Certain daily activities and expectations you might place on a younger, paid sitter may be unrealistic for grandparents. It depends on the individual grandparent and the level of care your child needs.

While the kids may suggest doing everything they can possibly think of, it may be unrealistic to expect grandparents to play hide and seek or tag unless they really want to. Let them (and your kids) know that providing supervision is more important than being an active playmate.

Regarding expenses, grandparents shouldn't be expected to buy new toys or pay for activities and outings on top of providing child care. Reading a book, playing a simple game, or watching an age-appropriate movie together are all fun and free activities. What really matters is that your kids are safe, healthy, and happy.

Provide Direction

While your child's grandparents raised you or your partner just fine, be prepared to provide some direction on the more important rules, routines, and expectations, particularly where their approach may differ from yours. Some childcare basics are the same as they've always been, and it's OK when caregivers differ a little in their approach.

However, some aren't. You may need to remind them to always lay the baby down on their back (and not stomach) for sleep or show them how to use the Diaper Genie. That's OK. Simply explain that you're not devaluing or undermining their experience, you're simply going over the same things with them as you would with any babysitter.

Give Them an Out

Child care is expensive, and you may be looking for every way possible to reduce your family's child care costs. Having grandparents babysit can help you save money (compared to daycare or a paid non-family babysitter or nanny) while providing the opportunity for your child and their grandparent to develop a closer bond.

But it's important that your parents or in-laws don't feel taken advantage of. Feelings of resentment are more likely to happen if they are asked to care for your kids on a regular basis without pay or other compensation and you haven't had open, honest conversations beforehand.

Relying on grandparents too much for child care or expecting more than they feel comfortable giving can create resentment over time. For instance, asking them to transport your kids to after-school activities without offering to pay for gas or other expenses may cause grandparents to feel taken for granted.

Be considerate in what you ask so that child care doesn't come at the cost of an amicable relationship. To prevent this scenario, have an honest discussion in which you can both share your desires and expectations about babysitting.

In addition, share your appreciation for the grandparents' willingness to help out. If your arrangement is more casual, communicate your understanding that there will be times they aren't able to babysit.

In order to help grandparents avoid feeling guilty for saying "no" to a babysitting request, assure them that you have a list of other sitters you can call whenever they're unable to watch the kids. (And make sure you have that list handy for when it's needed!)

Be considerate of the grandparents' schedules too, remembering that they have their own lives and activities. They may be flexible and able to sit whenever you call, but most grandparents appreciate advance notice whenever possible.

Finally, share that you want babysitting to be a fun time, not a burden. Reassure them that if they are too busy, not feeling well, or simply not up for watching the kids, they can share that with you. Then accept their "no" graciously and find another sitter.

A Word From Verywell

Be clear in your communication and be sure to discuss expectations—both yours and the grandparents'—to avoid misunderstandings. When using family members for child care, it's important to make sure the arrangement is beneficial for everyone. You want this time together to build magical memories for all three generations.

By Robin McClure
 Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.