Whenever I tell another mom about my grandparent child care arrangement, I’m met with intense envy.
Your mom and your in-laws watch your kids while you work part-time? You are so LUCKY!
It’s true that my situation allows for the best of both worlds; I love that I’m home with my kids two days a week, but I have family-based child care the other three weekdays so I can focus on my teaching and writing.
According to recent data, I’m far from the only mom with this kind of situation.
As of 2010, a staggering 2.7 million grandparents in the U.S. were responsible for the basic needs of at least one grandchild living with them. A Census survey also found that grandparents are the primary child care provider for 30 percent of working parents whose children are younger than five.
A 2012 study by MetLife and Generations United found that over forty percent of these grandparents provide child care fewer than five days per week, but a third watch their grandkids five days per week or more!
Why has grandparent child care become so common?
The biggest reason is because traditional daycare arrangements are simply too expensive for many families. In most states, child care now costs more than college tuition!
But there are emotional reasons as well. Many families believe that grandparents make excellent caregivers because of the natural love they feel for their grandchildren. Indeed, researchers from Johns Hopkins found that children are actually safest under grandparents’ care.
Additionally, babysitting their grandchildren keeps older adults healthier, both physically and mentally. It can even help to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s by boosting brain function and memory.
Grandparent child care: How to make it work
Of course, all of these benefits of grandparent child care don’t mean it’s always a picture perfect situation. There are always bumps in the road that you as the parent will need to navigate thoughtfully and intentionally.
Here are some of the common struggles you might face with your grandparent child care arrangement—plus solutions to make the experience as joyful as you want it to be for everyone.
The Struggle: You want to pay them something, but they refuse.
Despite the valuable service they’re providing, most grandparents won’t accept money in return for caring for their own grandchildren. Those that do usually only accept very minimal payments.
The Solution: Get creative. Find ways to pay your parents back that don’t involve an exchange of dollars—like lawn care or tech support anytime they need it. At the very least, offer them time off, especially if they watch the kids more than three days per week.
(Tip: Don’t wait for them to request a day off or help setting up their new iPad; just go ahead and give it to them.)
The Struggle: You have no backup plan.
Early childhood specialist Dr. Kathy Simons summed it up perfectly when she said the following:
“Child care is a really complicated thing. You don’t solve it once, you solve it six times a month—you have a regular arrangement, a backup arrangement, you have sick days, you have something for trips. You need a bunch of different kinds of arrangements.”
Ain’t that the truth!
My biggest child care struggle happened when my mom—who usually watches my kids two days per week—was caring for her own father with cancer. There were many days when she simply couldn’t be available, and with very good reason. But it often meant I was scrambling to make last minute arrangements so I could still teach my class and meet my deadlines.
The Solution: Always remember that grandparents have their own obligations; there will inevitably be appointments that come up, or days when they’ll be too sick to watch your kids. So go into every arrangement with a reliable backup plan.
One really neat option? KidsPark.
When your primary child care provider isn’t available, KidsPark has you covered. With licensed centers across the United States, KidsPark offers hourly child care for those times you’re in a pinch. All of their teachers have a background in Early Childhood Education, and each day there are featured activities like cooking, arts and crafts, sensory exploration, and hands-on science. Care is provided for children 2-11 years old, though a few centers accept children as young as 12 months.
They also offer traditional preschool—with a modern twist. You can pick your schedule (and only pay for the times your child attends), and the play-based curriculum includes the arts, math, and science.
Click here to see if there’s a KidsPark location near you!
The Struggle: The grandparents’ rules are way different than yours.
There’s a reason these shirts are so popular; this is a common challenge!
It’s such a delicate balance. On the one hand, you’re first and foremost a parent. Your child’s wellbeing is ultimately your responsibility, so your rules are very important.
On the other hand, you still want the grandparents to be grandparents, in the traditional “spoil the grandkids” kind of way. But if they spoil them with candy and toys every time they see them—and they see them three days a week!—you’re going to have a problem.
The Solution: Figure out your non-negotiables and communicate them clearly. Maybe for you it’s absolutely no sugar with your child’s lunch. Or a nap every single day, no exceptions. Determine what your hard-and-fast rules are for your grandparent child care providers (I think 3 to 5 such rules is a good number.)
After that? Relax on the other stuff. Sure, the grandparents are not going to care for your children exactly how you’d like them to, but remember that the benefits of having grandma and grandpa nearby probably outweigh that other stuff anyway.
What if the grandparents don’t respect your non-negotiable rules?
Unfortunately, this happens. But it’s a problem that stems from a deeper place of unresolved issues between you and your parents or your partners’ parents. If they don’t respect your role as the parent—or if you don’t have open lines of communication where you can constructively work through those issues—then maybe grandparent child care isn’t your best option.
The Struggle: You’re asking too much of the grandparents.
We know that most grandparents love caring for their grandchildren, and that doing so provides them with many physical and emotional benefits.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s stress-free for grandparents. Providing regular child care is often much more stressful than simply babysitting occasionally, especially when the children are very young. You don’t want to burn your parents out or take away from the joy they find in their grandchildren.
The Solution: Most parents need child care for various situations: while they’re working, going to school, keeping appointments, having date nights. But if you’re relying on grandparents for regular child care, you should try to find another option for some of these “extras.”
In other words, if grandma watched the kids four days last week while you worked, it’s just not fair to ask her to keep them on Saturday night so you and your husband can grab dinner and a movie.
But these “extras” are so important—for your relationship and for your wellbeing as a parent. So you need another option.
Here’s another time KidsPark comes to the rescue. They offer hourly child care on days, evenings, and weekends—they’re open till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays! You don’t even need reservations, so you don’t have to worry about planning weeks in advance. (Phew!)
KidsPark built their business with convenience in mind, and with safety as a top priority. The result is a child care option that’s tailored to your family and truly lives up to its slogan: Happy Kids. Happy Parents.
The Struggle: Grandparents feel under appreciated.
Again, while most grandparents truly love watching their grandkids, that does NOT mean it doesn’t require a lot of time and effort from them. They love it, but it isn’t always easy. And, just like parenting, too often it’s a thankless job.
The Solution: Get grateful. You don’t have to pull out all the stops with a bunch of hoopla (although every once in awhile that might be nice!). No, just look them in the eye and give them a sincere “thank you” on a regular basis. It goes a long way.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.