For many families, Grandma is the first childcare choice. Parents love the idea of a family member whom they know and trust caring for the kids. But there are challenges that automatically come with this childcare option. Here are some questions parents should think about before having Grandma care for their kids.

What type of relationship do each of you want?

Defining the relationship is the first step in making it work long term. One side may want an informal arrangement, where it feels like the grandparent simply visits often rather than provides formal care. In those cases, the primary relationship doesn’t change, it just expands a bit to include this new way of interacting. The other side may want a more formal childcare arrangement, where the parent takes on the role of employer and the grandparent takes on the role of employee. Both sides must want the relationship to develop in the same direction, otherwise problems will quickly come up and the arrangement simply won’t work. Having mismatched ideas around this issue can also damage the core relationship, so this is a particularly important issue to tackle early on.

Where will Grandma provide care?

For some parents who want an arrangement close to nanny care, it’s important that the child is cared for in his own home. The parent wants Grandma to come over to her house and stay as a nanny would. However, lots of grandparents don’t want to give up their lives that fully. They want the parent to drop off and pick up the child at the grandparent’s home, much like a family care center.

Will Grandma get paid?

Bringing money into any relationship is tricky because it can quickly change the dynamics of the relationship, even among family members and close friends. This is especially true when a grandparent is caring for a grandchild. Is this arrangement seen as simply a part of being in a family together? Is the care Grandma’s providing just part of providing support to her family? Or is providing care going above and beyond what can be typically expected? Is Grandma’s contribution a significant sacrifice that she should be compensated for? If the two sides decide that Grandma should be paid, you then have to determine how much she should be paid. Should she be paid the going rate for nanny services, or a stipend that represents an acknowledgement of her work? None of these questions are easy to answer, and they cut to the very core of how the parent and the grandparent view the family. By having this discussion before deciding on a childcare plan, you can make sure your values align.

How long will the arrangement last?

Some families see this childcare arrangement as a short term solution until a different type of childcare can be put into place. Grandma may care for a grandchild until a spot opens up in the daycare the parents love. Or she may care for a grandchild during the summer until he’s back in school. Other families see it as a long term solution. Both sides should detail their expectations so that neither side is caught off guard if a change is requested.

What discipline tactics will Grandma use?

It’s not unusual for new parents to decide to approach parenting differently than their parents did.  You may keep many of the family traditions, but change the way you approach discipline issues. If you’re comfortable with Grandma’s discipline style, there’s no problem. However, if you want Grandma to adjust her style to better align with the your own parenting approach, you need to discuss it with Grandma beforehand. Some grandparents are happy to adjust the way they do things. Others are resistant, and can even feel insulted that the way they raised their children isn’t “good enough” for their grandchildren. Framing the conversation as your personal parenting choice rather than a judgment of the grandparent’s approach can help you both talk about the issue in a productive way.

How will you address problems?

When entering into a childcare arrangement with a family member, it’s a good idea to agree on the way you’re going to resolve any issues that may come up. When you have a plan of action in place beforehand, it makes problem solving much easier. Regular meetings to check in with each other about what’s happening with the kids and within the parent/grandparent relationship are helpful too. Open communication is the best way to keep everyone happy and working well together.

Having Grandma care for the grandkids can be a wonderful solution to the childcare dilemma. By addressing possible trouble spots in advance, chances are the arrangement can work well for all involved.

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