From Positive Parenting Solutions founder and TODAY Moms contributor, Amy McCready
For many households, our reality is that both parents work outside the home, or simply need a night out every so often. And our dream? That our kids could be cared for by someone who loves them as much as we do. Enter the grandparents, a generation that has their health and vitality—not to mention a strong desire to spend lots of quality time with their grandkids—and many are taking on the daily caretaking responsibilities of young children.
What could be better? Parents save money on childcare, while Junior gets to enjoy Grandma’s freshly baked oatmeal muffins and a trip to the park with Grandpa.
While those of us with grandparents on hand feel very fortunate about our arrangement, this caretaker relationship can have problems of its own, and it’s a completely different dynamic than a paid babysitter (even if you pay your parents to watch your kids). For one, Grandma may have different ideas about discipline and routines than Mom does. This contributes to tension building between the two adults, plus the child may be living with two sets of rules and become adept at pitting one caretaker against the other.
Additionally, if Grandma and Grandpa are on duty all week, they may feel like they miss out on getting to be the one to “spoil” their grandchildren (after all, they’ve already paid their dues the first time around!), while Mom feels bad because she has to be the heavy and the grandparents get to be the heroes.
Even if grandparents simply play the role of an occasional babysitter, you’re still likely to face the occasional disagreement about anything from handling misbehavior to potty training.
But don’t worry; the following guidelines will help you address these potential problems, and help make sure the caretaking situation becomes the best of both worlds.
1. Create a short list of non-negotiables.
The truth is, Mom needs to feel confident that certain priorities will be taken care of every day. And Grandma needs some flexibility to adhere to her own personal style. A list of 3-5 non-negotiables can help. Mom gets the peace of mind that her 2-year-old is taking a nap every day from 1:00 – 3:00 (and won’t be a total grump for the entire evening), while Grandma feels free to decide what they do for naptime routine, for instance.
2. Sit down for a weekly review
Once a week, sit down briefly to discuss what went well that week and what issues or challenges each caregiver faced. For instance, if Ben has been hitting lately, or Emma has developed a fear of Grandma’s cat, you can create a plan together, without finger-pointing, to address each challenge
You should also talk about what areas you can focus on this week to foster your child’s independence. One of the surest ways to proactively prevent a power struggle is to help kids learn how to do some real-world tasks for themselves, from tying their shoes to packing their own lunch. Grandpa may be a natural to teach these skills, as he may have more time and patience than Mom or Dad. Grandparents will feel proud of helping to contribute to their grandchild’s independence, while your child will feel empowered in her new capabilities.
3. Have a plan for disagreements.
Chances are, you and Grandma will face disagreements about childcare from time to time. And these issues can be difficult to raise—after all, many kid-related topics can be quite emotionally charged within families, more so than with a paid caretaker (even if Grandma is paid).
To give yourselves a head start on successful resolution, agree in advance on a plan for handling disagreements, and practice good communication. For instance, it’s best to stay away from statements like “You never…” or “You always…,” which can put a person on the defensive. Instead, use “I feel” messages. That may sound like, “I feel that you are undermining my parenting when you disregard the sleep schedule,” or “I feel like you don’t respect my time when you come home late from work without calling to let me know.” A carefully worded and respectful statement will go a long way in starting a productive conversation.
Then work on solutions. Once everyone has shared their concerns, brainstorm a list of ways to solve the problem. Discuss which solution is in the best interest of your child first, and then the other parties involved. After you implement the solution, make sure to talk about its success (or not) in your Weekly Review.
With careful planning and lots of communication, your child will reap the benefits of Grandma or Grandpa’s loving care—and you’ll get to enjoy your career or your night out with fewer worries. Best of all, you can keep family dynamics positive for everyone involved.
Amy McCready is the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and mom to two boys, ages 12 and 15. Positive Parenting Solutions teaches parents of toddlers to teens how to correct misbehaviors without nagging, reminding or yelling. For free discipline training resources, visit: www.PositiveParentingSolutions.com