When those new babies come home all bundled up we just can’t wait to hold them and play with them. We look forward to holidays and birthdays for the sole pleasure of delighting them with gifts. We marvel at their change and growth over time as they grow up to be fine young adults. We treasure our grandchildren.
So why is it that when we’re called on to care for our grandchildren we sometimes find ourselves with mixed feelings? Can there be too much of a good thing? Maybe so. The happiest families work out strategies to meet the needs of all concerned: parents, children and grandparents.
Here are some questions to answer about your role as a grandparent:
1) Do you want to babysit for your grandchildren on a regular basis? Is your health good enough, your energy levels high enough? How about your tolerance for noise, mess and active play?
2) If you do want to care for grandchildren, how often do you want them? How much is too much?
3) What rules and values are important to both you and the parents? What foods are okay and not okay, what nap and bedtimes schedules are important and how are the grandchildren to be disciplined?
4) What safety issues need to be addressed? Is your home “childproofed?”
5) Will you feel free to say “No” if your own schedule cannot comfortably accommodate caring for your grandchildren?
What is needed is clear communication and boundaries between parents and grandparents. It’s smart to have these conversations even before baby comes home. What are the parent’s roles? Grandparent’s roles? How often will grandparents care for the child? What is expected when they care for the child in terms of discipline, feeding, schedules and the like. Is pay involved or are grandparents happy to care for their grandchildren gratis?
If it is determined that you will provide care for your grandchildren on a regular basis or even once in a while, take the time to talk with the parents about important boundaries. Mention any concerns you have before they become problems. Think about the long-term consequences of any over-permissive attitudes on your part and become aware of any “touchy areas” that might get in the way of your relationship with the parents. Some families use childcare checklists to help them find the right balance between rigid rules and being overly lenient. The written list may also include emergency information such as phone numbers, health information and the like.
Understanding your own limitations and learning to say no is both difficult and necessary. Your own schedule and your desire to maintain a happy active senior life may require you to set limits on the time you give to family child care. Don’t take on responsibility you really don’t want. It’s very difficult to undo once a certain pattern is in place.
In general 24/7 care is too demanding for grandparents. An occasional sleepover is fine, but most seniors are happy to return to their quieter, more orderly days without the children. Be open and honest in your willingness to babysit, speak up before any resentments build, and protect the cohesiveness of the family relationship above all.
Some resources for guidance as you care for your grandchildren: