Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Whether your parents or in-laws care for your children on a regular basis or occasionally, best practices when a grandparent is caregiver help build a win-win collaboration. Tantamount to making the arrangement work for you are taking steps to avoid misunderstandings and recognizing often overlooked benefits and advantages that you may not have considered or have forgotten.

Who is more devoted? More trustworthy? Has your children’s best interests at heart? Is a more vehement family cheerleader? And, grandparents who can are often happy to drop everything to cover for you in an emergency, on nights or weekends. Being a grandparent nanny goes far beyond obligation or a command performance.

One grandmother I know gets up super early to take an hour train ride to arrive at her son’s home by 6:15AM so her son, a chef, can be at work by 7:00AM. She does this happily three days a week to babysit her 15-month old grandson. That’s devotion and beyond. The child’s grandfather who lives nearby fills in the other two days. He says, “I feel as if I’m making up for the time I missed away from home working when my son was growing up.”

Like the majority of caregiving grandparents, this set of grandparents steps in not only because they want to, but also so the child’s parents can get to work. Grandparent babysitters can lessen parents’ feelings of constant exhaustion and burnout—be it from worry and stress of having a sitter they don’t know well or the financial burden of, in many areas prohibitive, childcare costs. According to a survey of over 4,000 families, parents are spending more than last year and roughly 10 percent of their income on childcare. Seventy percent of these families pay what the government “defines as unaffordable.”

7 Best practices to avoid misunderstandings

With grandparents, you can forget checking references and having interviews. Nonetheless, the situation can get complicated, even sticky at times. To avoid misunderstandings following these best practices when a grandparent is caregiver, will make everyone’s life easier. Below are details you want to think about or discuss before the arrangement starts:

  • Spell out what is most important to you as you would with any hired babysitter. To prevent tensions from building, make your rules clear. If your parent seems uncomfortable with what you request, explain your reasoning or offer an article that goes into detail. For instance, how you want the baby put to bed, food allergies or restrictions, house or play rules you want followed.
  • Underscore that the arrangement is a collaboration by requesting a daily report and listening to what grandparents tells you. Remind your parent that you want to be told what went well and what went wrong under a grandparent’s watch. Ask your parent or in-law to check with you if something is questionable. And although this is a collaboration, be clear that as the parent it is your job to manage a problem, not theirs.
  • Let them know that you want to be told about any difficulties your child may have had during the day: any new fears they may have noticed or unruly sibling fights. If a grandparent has direct contact at school, you want to be told of comments a teacher makes so you can address them or explain how you want the grandparent to handle it if you can’t.  
  • When your babysitter takes over: You likely spent most of your life seeking a parent’s approval, doing what you were told. But as an adult now and a protective parent, there will be instances when you will want to or have to say NO to a parent or in-law who takes care of your child—when your parent, for instance, may be ignoring your rules or being too restrictive or too lenient. However…
  • Remind yourself that your parents or in-laws are not employees…most are helping out because they want to. They will probably indulge your children from time to time…that’s what grandparents do. Indulgences are a trade-off for you being able to go to work without major concerns over your baby’s and older children’s safety and well-being.
  • Don’t be jealous of the time a grandparent spends with your children or the fun they have together. It can help to ease feelings of jealousy by viewing your parent or in-law through your children’s eyes.
  • Avoid having arguments and disagreements in front of your older children. You need to respect your parent or in-law and the kids will follow suit. Insist children obey their grandparents who are in charge when you are not there. How you treat your parents is probably how your children will treat you in the future.

Thoughtful ways to show your appreciation

Surprisingly, best practices when a grandparent is nanny frequently iron out kinks or misunderstandings in your parent-child relationship, ones that may have been simmering for a very long time.

Feel fortunate for the support you get from a grandparent. In short, don’t take advantage of a good thing. Although many grandparents are in better health and more active than grandparents a generation or two ago, you want to know if what you are asking is too much or too difficult. Be aware of any limitations a grandparent caregiver may have and watch for signs that he or she seems worn out or overly stressed.

Be sure your parent or in-law knows that he or she is valued. You will have your own ideas, but here, a few ways to get started:

  • A simple thank you at the end of each day is imperative
  • Offer payment if appropriate or helpful in some way
  • Do their yard work
  • Assist them with starting or finishing a project
  • Treat them to a dinner out or make them dinner
  • Gift something you know they want or need or would enjoy

Are grandparents the best choice caregivers for your children?

In so many families, the answer is probably “yes,” especially if best practices when a grandparent is caregiver are considered and implemented.

Grandparents share your values and your culture. They are the glue of family—they hold the family’s rituals and traditions. Grandparents can tell stories of what you did as a child, repeat bedtime rituals you loved and as your children get older teach them the skills they have. They give children another person’s shoulder to cry on…or to tell a problem. Grandparents build bonds and create lasting memories for children. In most families, having a grandparent as your caregiver is a win-win.