Guest Post: The Pros and Cons of Grandparents Watching the Kids

granny as nanny - pros and cons for working momsGranny as nanny: It’s happening more than ever these days, and there are definitely pros and cons to this particular childcare setup. We’ve talked about grandparents as caregivers before, but it’s been a while — so when Kristine, a manager mom in Houston who was kind enough to share a week in her life with us, noted that her mom watches her kids often, we had to ask her for more thoughts. To refresh your memory, or in case you missed her post, here’s how she described her childcare setup: “My mom watches them Monday to Thursday. My husband and I work 80 hours within 9 days so we alternate Fridays off.”

Here are Kristine’s thoughts on the pros and cons of using grandparents as caregivers:

Stock photo at top via Stencil.granny as nanny - images of hands

 

The Positive Aspects of Family Caregivers

  1. The inseparable and irreplaceable bond my children build with their grandmother.
  2. Grandparents have a vested interest in the children’s development and safety. The grandkids have my mom’s DNA, so of course she wants them to thrive — not only thrive, but stay alive. I can completely trust her to handle my daughter’s multiple severe food allergies as carefully as I would.
  3. They are known commodities — to put it in a very objective and somewhat sterile manner. You know how your parents raised you and you can expect a flavor of that with your own children. You also know their (non-existent) criminal history and background.
  4. Bilingual and multicultural upbringing. My mother chooses to exclusively speak Vietnamese with my kids. She also covers the bases with Vietnamese cultural aspects, e.g., the Lunar New Year in January/February. It’s amazing how their little brains can quickly switch from Vietnamese to English. Cultural identity is important to us so I’m thankful for the built-in perk.

The Potential Drawbacks to Family Caregivers 

  1. Burnout. Some parents are better than others when it comes to drawing boundaries. Mine is one who is very selfless so we can have tense moments when I’ve crossed a line and don’t know it.
  2. Tension. Everybody generally complains about their boss. It’s awkward that I am “the boss” and I know my mom isn’t completely on board with some aspects of my parenting style. We somehow make it work but I do know that it comes at the cost of my mom complaining about me.
  3. Normalcy. My mom can’t always do “normal” grandma things. For example, she can’t spoil her grandkids in the traditional sense since she’s around them on a daily basis. Spoiling them would set a bad precedent. I know that puts her in an awkward position and somewhat in competition with my kids’ other grandmother. (Disclaimer: my kids have AMAZING yet different grandparents on both sides. Let’s be very clear about that!!!)

So readers, let’s hear it — what are your thoughts on the “granny as nanny” situation? Is this a childcare option for you, and have you taken it? What do you see as the pros and cons of grandparents as regular babysitters? Is there anything you would have done differently or anything you wish you’d known before asking a grandparent to provide childcare? 

Granny the Nanny: If you've ever considered having your mother, father, or in-laws watch your kid(s) on a regular basis, there are some pros and cons you should know about! A guest poster (a manager mom in Houston) offered her thoughts on that childcare setup, with a grandparent or other family member as caregiver, babysitter, or nanny..

Comments

  1. My parents watch our daughter Mondays and Wednesdays, My in-laws watch her Tuesdays and Thursdays, and they switch off Fridays. This prevents burnout for both sets of grandparents. What’s difficult for us is that both sets of grandparents raised us a specific way, and it was over 30 years ago, so we had to set some pretty strict boundaries about safety (car seats always, blankets/stuffed animals in her crib). The wonderful things: she’s learning Spanish at my parent’s house, they are super flexible so that if my parents can’t do a day for whatever reason, my in-laws can usually cover, and vise-versa. It’s been wonderful having them so involved in our daughter’s lives.

  2. Lilliet says:

    I think if you have a good relationship with the grandparent that will take on the role as nanny, nothing but good would come of it. You must have good communication, though, and exercise that prior to starting the agreement and regularly check-in. I pay my mom (and give an end of the year bonus), and that I think helps alleviate some of the tension. Her pay is below what is the usual in our area for an experienced caregiver. But it’s really helped ease our hesitancy to give strict instructions (because she is being paid) but helps empower her to take some liberties (spoiling our child or running errands etc. because she isn’t being paid 100% her market value).

    We recently started a nanny share with another couple in the neighborhood who has a daughter about the same age as our youngest. With a few hiccups in us adjusting to a more rigid system, it’s been great. She’s being paid fair market value for a nanny with two kids, we each benefit from decreased cost because of the share. This is not a good arrangement with a family or Granny/nanny who is not good at communicating. I took a lot of effort to make the second family and my mom communicated directly with each other (instead of through me).

    To Kristine: Regarding #3, the normal grandma things… one thing my mom does is just announce to the kids if she’s Granny or Nanny. As they get older they totally get it. So on the weekend when it’s Granny, it’s all sugar and no sleep (#thanksmom) but during the week she’s Nanny with balanced meals/snacks and strict nap times.

    • EB0220 says:

      The Granny or Nanny thing is adorable. (and smart)!

    • rakma says:

      I love the Granny/Nanny thing.

      Since my MIL watches my kids at my house, there are ‘Kid House Rules’ and “Grandma House Rules’. They’re pretty similar, Grandma’s house just has more lollipops.

  3. Boston Legal Eagle says:

    I asked for thoughts on this question on here a few weeks ago and got some great responses. We considered having my dad watch our son two days a week, and switch to part-time daycare. Right now, he helps out by covering sick days and both parents come on some weekends so that we can go on dates or run errands. While the cost savings would be nice, we were leaning against doing this for several reasons. My dad and I have very similar personalities and he tends to bring out my own anxieties, which leads to tension between us. There have been times where he has commented on our choices that annoyed me and I thought this would have just been amplified if he were there more often. We would have had to scramble to find alternate childcare if he was sick or traveling, which isn’t a problem with daycare as they always have coverage. I also wanted him to enjoy being a grandpa and not have to feel obligated to us two days a week, and have to deal with discipline and tantrums and all that other fun stuff.

    I also feel like grandparents may be better with certain ages than with others. Right now, we have a toddler who has a lot of energy and I think it would be hard for my dad to keep up and keep him entertained. See also, tantrums, lack of ability to communicate and extreme emotions. I would actually consider having him come by a few days a week if we have a second at the infant stage, and then at the other end, I think it would be nice for him to be around when our son is a little older too, maybe after school before we get home.

    I have found it immensely helpful to have my parents nearby, both for our back-up care needs and because I want my son to form a strong relationship with them. I just don’t think that going beyond that into full-time care would work for us right now.

  4. rakma says:

    We have a really successful caregiver relationship with my MIL, and I think two things help with this

    1) As mentioned above, we pay MIL. I think this helps to define it as a mutual arrangement, rather than us just receiving help from MIL

    2) We rearranged work schedules so MIL is only there 3 days a week. Yes, this means I work Saturdays and that’s not the most awesome, but it give MIL time to spend with friends or make appointments, so she doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Now that we have two, I think 5 days a week would be too much for her.

  5. Everlong says:

    My parents (mom and step-father) watch my toddler and will watch my newborn as well when I return to work in a few weeks. They average close to 20 hours a week, some weeks closer to 30. It works well only because of very open communication and adjusting expectations. They certainly do things differently than I would at times but a little more screentime and sugar than I would prefer are minor inconveniences compared to the benefits of having grandparents so involved in the lives of my kids.

    The only downfalls for us are that I sometimes wish my mom was more open when she’s irritated with me. Much like this poster, my mom is selfless and will not tell me when I have crossed a line. She quietly deals with things and lets them pass. I wish I knew when things were wrong sometimes.

    I also miss my time with my mom. This may be just a result of having kids but we used to run around and do fun things. We still do things now but it’s with at least one kid in tow and it can be hard for all of us when we’re both present and with toddler. My mom does her best to defer to me whereas toddler will seek whoever he thinks will give him the answer he wants. It’s very confusing for him to figure out who is in charge when Grandma and Mom are both around.

  6. All the feels says:

    We took our daughter to DH’s work Halloween party on Tuesday. In the bathroom, she tells me, “Mom, is [COMPANY NAME] only for boys?” I did not how to respond, what do you mean I asked? “I mean, this company is mostly for boys right? Girls can come too but more boys right?”

    “But there are girls here.” [Aside: I CAN NOT believe I actually tried to rationalize it.]

    “Yes, but there are so much more boys here than girls. Maybe the girls are on another floor.”

    She is 5 and she immediately saw how many more men worked at that company than women. SHE IS FIVE and she picked up on that. I’m almost 40 and I’ve become so desensitized to it, I didn’t even realize it.

    On the car drive home, we spoke about choices – those we as women want to make, and those we are forced to make, and those that we don’t get a chance to make…and choices that Dad and other men have about hiring and supporting more girls. And choices that the company has. We likely didn’t handle it in the right way – I was so taken aback.

    To the professional women here – in whatever capacity, full-time, part-time, ex but now SAHM, to be SAHM – thank you. If my daughter chooses to be a professional woman one day, she needs role models so thank you for showing up every day.

    • Wow, I am speechless. What a perceptive kid you have, and yet her observation is more than a little heartbreaking, isn’t it. I think you handled this as well as you could have.

      • Anonymous says:

        +1.

        One somewhat happier story. I work in a court with a lot of female judges. One of the attorneys here always brought her girls when they were little when they were on school break. The attorney worked for a female judge in chambers and up until the oldest was 8 or 9 she thought all judges everywhere were women.

        I guess in a perfect world everything would be 50/50 and our kids wouldn’t think in these terms at all but I still always smile when I think of my colleague’s daughters.

    • Kids Deserve More Credit says:

      Kids pick up on a lot. My oldest observed that I worked with NO other black people at a very young age. He asked me why I was “allowed” to work there, and if I was special. Gah.

      My friend recently look my five year old to the zoo. He came home and all he wanted to talk about is how he didn’t think it was right to keep animals in cages and we should send them home to be with their animal families and run free.

  7. My dad is moving over for five months to look after kiddo when I go back to work in January. It’s incredible but I am a bit nervous about navigating everything – my dad living in a new city / country, will he be too tired, lonely etc. He is renting his own flat and will come here during the day. He is so excited and they are going to have such a special bond.

  8. Anonymous says:

    About ten days a year my inlaws watch our toddler.

    They don’t respect our “let him grow at his pace” style and have tried to rush solid foods, toilet training and using an open cup before I felt he was ready. This does cause tension and frustrates everyone.

    We don’t pay them (they would be insulted) but usually buy them dinner and some good wine.

  9. Laura says:

    I haven’t seen or heard from my parents since my son was a newborn. Please, whatever your setup is, be grateful they are engaged and interested in your child. A true gift.

  10. Moms Solo says:

    I’ve done granny nanny, real nanny and daycare. While the granny nanny was perfect for the time, I wouldn’t do it again. My main issue was that the corollary to them loving the baby like their own is they are likely more opinionated when it comes to parenting. They only way for me to really make it work was to accept that I cannot control every second of my baby’s life and, if it’s not a safety issue, *I* was going to be the one who had to let things go. That was not the case with my relationship with the nanny at all.

  11. Anonymous says:

    My mom watches our kid once a week and my in-laws do two days. We split the other two days.

    Big Pros: our child is super close with the grandparents, they love it, and I feel no guilt going to work. This was especially helpful for going back to work and I would recommend the arrangement at least for the first year if it’s an option. Plus the financial savings cannot be overstated.

    Some trickier bits: this only works if you have a good relationship and everyone is willing to be flexible. It works for us because everyone involved really tries to make it work. Our parents defer to us on a lot of stuff even if they don’t necessarily agree and we try to remember that they’ve raised kids before, so maybe they’re not entirely wrong in all of their impulses. But your parents aren’t your employees and you can’t treat them as such nor expect the same things from them. Some of this may be cultural, but certainly this is the case for us.

    What’s critical: you have to always keep the lines of communications open. This is easier for me with my mom than it is with my in laws. I have to ask the in-laws a lot of questions and intuit a lot. For example, they’d never say they want to go on vacation so I just ask every so often if they’d like to make any travel plans. This is generally something that works with my personality and natural skill set but I can see how it might lead to issues in some cases.

    You also really have to pick your battles. A lot of things aren’t worth fighting over. On the other hand, I have no delusions that a nanny would do things I don’t like too and I’m much more comfortable with my mom and MIL’s way of doing things than a stranger’s, and I know they are just as invested in my kid as I am.

    Overall, I’d say that it’s worked out well for us. I’m much closer to my in-laws as a result than I was before. But you do have to be comfortable with having them in your life fairly intimately, which I know not all people would be.

    One small tip that I find really helpful if you go down this road – make it easy for them to do what you want. For ex., I leave all the food cooked and ready for them so I know that my child won’t be eating pizza or whatever else they’d feed her if left to their own devices and I schedule a class for one of the grandparent days so that I know she’s going outside and getting some social enrichment that day no matter what else happens.

    Also, at least in our case, I think it helps that we have everyone helping out as opposed to just one grandparent doing 5 days a week. It’s easier to be flexible this way because whatever I’m not crazy about isn’t “full time” and it’s easier on the grandparents, too. So maybe one grandma is less active and watches too much Sesame Street, but it’s compensated for by the other days. Since everyone is respectful of the main routine – naps and meals – I feel like the different caretaking approaches are beneficial and expose my kid to more things/keep her flexible. On the other hand, it does require a lot of mental gymnastics to know who is doing what and when and how. Still, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

    • Jacque says:

      I can relate to so much of this! My in-laws have watched our girls for a little over 10 years now, M-F, all summer daycare provider. The kids practically live there.

      – Very little guilt about going to work
      – Kids close with grandparents
      – Huge financial savings
      – Pick your battles (don’t be a nitpick and trust their judgement)
      – Only works if there are good relationships (but you can get there!)

      I will say that I didn’t have the best relationship with my MIL when we started. I didn’t click with her at all, but we both loved my 2 year old daughter, and she was willing to watch her for free so I could stop being a SAHM and go back to work. They moved to our city specifically to be able to be near our daughter and provide that for us. It’s been a huge, incredible gift.

      I didn’t like my MIL, but I had no problems with the way she kept house/cooked/loved my daughter. She was more patient and more loving than I was, and I knew my daughter was in great hands. Honestly, seeing her in action loving my children (youngest came along 3 year later) and modifying her entire house to accommodate them (swingsets, inflatable pools, trampolines, tents in the basement, PowerWheels) made me really SEE HER FOR WHO SHE IS. We have a much better relationship now, born out of the two of us loving these girls and losing sleep over them and trying to figure out how best to help them. We’re never going to be BFFs, but I’m not BFFs with my mom, either.

      Speaking of my mom, I think she’s the biggest con of this arrangement. She’s incredibly bitter and jealous of the time my MIL spends with the girls, although she has zero desire to watch them herself. My mom wants to be the “favorite” grandma who infrequently drops by with presents–and I know my MIL is afraid that’s how the girls see her–but in reality, the girls don’t know my mother at all. They don’t have a relationship with her, but they have a 100% real relationship with my MIL. I’ve endured lots of hissing, nasty vents from my mother that “that woman” spends so much time with “her grandbabies” and is “shoving her ideas on them”. *eye roll*

  12. Anonymous says:

    My mom watches my three children every day and has for almost five years now. I love the situation and am incredibly grateful and know how lucky we are. I am also quite often smothered by guilt thinking about how challenging my 3-year-old is and how she has basically given up retirement to watch her grandchildren.

    I don’t pay her; like a previous commenter said, she’d be insulted by that. But her birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas gifts are much more generous than anyone else’s.

    When we were deciding whether to have a third child, we almost chose not to because of my mother. Because I know how exhausting it is to watch kids every day and I can see how it’s aged her – even with the joy of spending time with grandkids, it is hard. work. I love the bond my kids have with her and I love that I don’t have any doubts whatsoever about the person watching the kids, but the guilt is so, so real.

    Luckily my job is very flexible with time off, so I’ve been able to take off whenever something comes up (doctor appointments, vacations, etc.). But I know there have been many times she’s come over while feeling under the weather because she doesn’t want to inconvenience me (even though I’ve had to remind her it would be worse if the baby got sick than if I had to take a day off work).

    One other downside is that, because she is not my employee and I have so much guilt already about her help, there aren’t a lot of breaks for me and DH. When we’re off work, I’m pretty insistent that my mom has a free day, too. At first, DH wanted to take days off to do random things, and it took many arguments to get through to him that we’re the parents, the kids are our responsibility, and my mom is not the hired help. But because of that, it’s rare that I have a free day when I can do anything I want or get non-work things done; if the kids were with a nanny or daycare, I’d have no qualms about sending them on a day I’m off work so I can get other things done.

    It’s definitely a mixed bag. It’s been a wonderful bonding experience, it’s eased my mind to have someone who loves the kids watch them, and obviously it has been a huge financial plus to not have to pay for childcare. But the guilt and the inability to have a backup caregiver for sick days, vacations, or days I want to do anything else are the trade off.

  13. I didn’t have grandparent care when my kids were pre-school but I did starting when my son was in kindergarten and my daughter was 2nd grade. (Prior to that my husband was a SAHD.) My father-in-law came over every school morning, loaded/unloaded the dishwasher, dressed and fed the kids and took them to school after DH and I left early for work. (DH worked 6-3pm every day so he did pickup.)

    Grandpa picked them up from school on early-release days, had them every random teacher in-service day, spring/winter break if we weren’t on vacation and he had them all summer every day. He took them to summer camp, soccer practice and even to buy soccer shoes. He considered it an honor and would never have accepted pay. This arrangement continued until they were in high school and driving on their own.

    It was the best thing that could ever have happened for my kids. They both consider their grandpa as a third parent. He offered a different adult perspective from mom and dad. We didn’t really have any philosophical differences but maybe that’s because my kids were older.

    I called him “Super Nanny” but he was really the best grandpa in the world for my kids. I wrote an article about it on my blog.

  14. Amelia Bedelia says:

    My parents watch my two girls three days a week. My husband stays home with them the other two days a week.
    Pros:
    1. my mum and I have similar parenting goals and techniques. so, I know that the kids are being raised with my rules and values.
    2. my mum and I have a great relationship and can open up and talk about things. she also respects my husband and I as parents and will do what we ask, even though she doesn’t always agree.
    3. the kids ADORE her.
    4. I don’t have to get them up and ready in the morning!!!! of course, this would be the case if I had a nanny, too.
    5. she can stay late at a moment’s notice when I have a work meeting or if my husband has to go in to the hospital on an off day (they live in an attached apartment). we could’t do this with daycare or a paid nanny.
    6. she works with my girls on letters and alphabet and colors and all that other stuff — she’s a former teacher and this is her passion. my girls are light years ahead verbally because of her.

    Cons:
    1. my kids don’t get out as much. My mother is fearful with them at the playground, so they only go with me or husband. She takes them on walks, but isn’t energetic enough for some outings. Also, she hates loud areas with tons of kids, so she won’t even take them to library story time.
    2. they watch a bit more screen time with my father than I’d prefer. he routinely will put on a show so that they sit with them and watch. it’s sweet, but I know in daycare they wouldn’t have that.
    3. I don’t ask that she do some “extras” that I would ask of a nanny. Because it is my mother and she’s older and also not my “employee.”

    over all, I highly, highly recommend it so long as you have good relationship. I wouldn’t do this with an already tense relationship, because I think it would make the relationship worse, not better. and you just have to manage expectations. yours and theirs.

  15. My MIL is a huge part of our childcare set up, but she was very clear that she wanted to play “back up” and not be a full time force. When we had 1 kid, she picked him up from pre-school 5 days a week. The bonuses were immense — he didn’t spend a full day at school and had a few hours with an adult devoted to him (bonus for us — we didn’t have to handle pick up and it was free). Now that we have 2 kids, she picks them up 3 days a week and is also our back up person if someone is sick and we can’t take time off from work.

    The system works very well, in large part because she is very easy going and not judgmental. We try to return the favor by not demanding too much. She still gets to be Grandma — letting them watch more tv and eat more sweets than with us. She has started to temper the sweets to once a week. We try not to ask her to cover nights, so still have a fleet of babysitters. And occasionally she has plans and we have to adapt the routine. She drives me crazy occasionally, but the system is fantastic for us, the kids, and her. They are sooo close to her and it is just the vision she had for herself as Grandma. I also really value having another adult in their lives, for love and support. With both of us working crazy full time jobs, it really helps to have a third adult in their lives.

    My parents fly in once or twice a year to help when there is a lapse in school/camp coverage, and then will help for 4-5 full days. They are impossible to control so I focus my requests on core safety stuff and otherwise bite my tongue, grateful for the back up care.

  16. Cat Lady In Training says:

    This topic caught my eye because I was the kid in this situation. Until I started pre-school my mom dropped me off at my grandparent’s house every day, and once I started school my grandmother or grandfather picked me up everyday until I was in 7th grade. Summers and school breaks were spent at their house during the day. And some nights!

    It was a fantastic setup and I was so lucky. My life was probably a little less child-centered than children’s lives are today, but I don’t think spending my days running errands, grocery shopping, gardening, working on house projects, or going to the mall damaged me. They read to me, taught me to balance a checkbook, taught me to make killer cornbread. I was so, so close to both of them and that bond lasted until they died. And all though I was expected to come to their house, eat my snack, do my homework and then chill with them until my mom came home I never saw that as they weren’t able to spoil me. They did spoil me. But I, and my younger brother, could understand what time was for what.

    I think my mom had a few times that having her mom as caretaker was difficult for her, especially if my grandmother did or did not let us do something that my mom would have. But she admits that she was incredibly, incredibly lucky that as a working mom with a demanding career she never had to worry about what to do if we were sick, or that we would be in daycares all summer long, or that she would have to take off work to take us to the doctor.

    My brother and I were lucky that our other grandparents lived close by and we saw them often and also had a good relationship with them. It wasn’t the same relationship, but still really good and we were so lucky with all of our grandparents.

  17. Anonymous says:

    This makes me so happy to read. I hope my kids have such fond memories of their time with grandma.

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