To keep the arrangement working for everyone, consider these words of wisdom.
“When my daughter had to return to work after her maternity leave, she wasn’t able to find a day care center, nor did she have shared custody. So she asked me to take care of the baby,” Patricia says. Genevieve says she spontaneously offered to take care of her grandson every Thursday afternoon, and Joleen took care of her two granddaughters every Wednesday for years until they entered high school. With a shortage of availability in day care centers, the cost of child care, and the increase in the number of single parents, today’s older generation is much more in demand.
When our parents or in-laws take care of our children it is both reassuring and convenient. The children know them well; they respect the children’s’ rhythm, they don’t mind if the children are ill, and the relationship is based on mutual trust.
A practical solution, no doubt, but one that has advantages and disadvantages. To make it work as well as possible, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons and to define the rules from the very start.
Save time for yourself and your partner
Many of today’s grandparents are young. A third of them are still working. Many of them still have the burden of their own parents. Most of them are very busy. And if we’re in top form at 55, we’re less so at 65. Even if parents want to help their children, becoming a regular babysitter isn’t easy.
Marriage counselor Christiane Behaghel recommends thinking carefully before babysitting grandchildren. “In addition to the physical limits (giving a child a bath, for example), one must consider the conditions and context: is there a park nearby or do you live in an apartment in the city? Will it be necessary to drive?” For Behaghel, it is also essential that both grandparents agree. One grandparent may want to take advantage of the time with his or her spouse—to travel and do projects together rather than be limited by a regular commitment.
Likewise, the grandparents should have a life beyond their grandchildren and be able to take time off, on the condition, of course, of giving sufficient notice. It is important not to become depressed when you are not needed as much. “I pay a lot of attention to having free time for my personal activities and commitments,” explains Genevieve. “My daughter knows this and respects it.”
For all these reasons, regular care of the grandchildren should have a specified time limit, according to Behaghel.
Once the agreement of scheduled care is established, how will it be specifically laid out? It is one thing to be a “vacation grandparent” and another to be an “everyday grandparent.” While during vacations a certain flexibility can be allowed for studying, schedules, or meals, during the year the child’s rhythm must be respected. Nor should we give in to whims and run the risk of getting overwhelmed. In the home, the grandparents will do what the parentswant, but they should not be considered a substitute for the parents, the first educators of the children. Parents may also have preferences, such as having the child eat homemade food, that they not be taken to the park, or even that they should not watch TV.
In order to feel comfortable in the relationship, Behaghel recommends that each party should make it clear to the other what they expect: “We should not take certain things for granted just because we are family. In order to avoid conflict, parents will express their wishes, while grandparents will establish their limitations. It is entirely understandable that a grandmother may not feel comfortable with a child playing too rough in the home and would prefer to go to a park. Come up with a compromise.”
Joleen recalls: “When I was asked to feed my granddaughters with home-cooked food, I pointed out that I preferred to use the time playing with them rather than cooking. So we decided that my daughter-in-law would be the one to get the meals ready. As for TV, I told them that I needed a break from the day, so we agreed that the children would watch some movies on the tablet for about half an hour.”
Although relationships tend to be fluid between mother and daughter, they may be less so with a daughter-in-law. According to Behaghel, “In this specific case, it seems to me that the bond should be carefully cultivated, for example, by regularly evaluating how the babysitting is going.”
This babysitting service seems so natural that it is rarely paid for. All the more reason for parents to compensate for gas, supplies or food, and to be grateful: a form of recognition for the beautiful gesture of love offered by “babysitter grandparents.”
Bénédicte de Saint-Germain