Why You Should Think Twice Before Using Grandparents for Day Care

When I told my mother-in-law that our friend’s mom would be watching her baby when she went back to work full time, I’m pretty sure I saw her jaw hit the floor. “Full time?” she questioned in bug-eyed disbelief. Both she and my mother appreciate the sacrifices we’re making so that I can stay home with their grandson.

One reason they’re so appreciative is that they know how much stamina is required to care for an infant, a baby, a toddler, even a preschooler. It’s one thing to foster great relationships between your child and their grandparents. It’s quite another to put the responsibility of your child’s full time care on your parents’ aging shoulders. Where do you draw the line?

For many families, grandparent day care is a financial godsend. They simply couldn’t afford to quit their jobs or send their child to a day care facility. According to recent statistics,

61% of grandparents provided at least 50 hours a year of care for grandchildren at least one year between 1998 and 2008; 70% provided care for two years or more.

But, do you really want to hire family, let alone unpaid family, to perform a job? Because honestly, that’s what you’re doing. And when it comes to the care of your child, crossing the work/family divide can become awkward. Fast.

Recently, CBS reporter Lesley Stahl wrote a book about the “new grandparenting.” She focused on grandparents who took on major caregiving roles in their grandchildren’s lives. One reason many of these grandparents jumped at the chance was that they felt they weren’t able to parent the way they wanted to, usually because they had to work. Now that their children have to work, the retirees are content to live life over again, the good bits at least. Unfortunately, nostalgia can have disastrous results on parent-child relationships. As one mommy blogger who used grandparent day care recounted:

It’s hard to tell your parents how to parent your children, especially when you are a brand-spanking-new parent and they have done it for over 30 years.

It’s also a delicate situation to tell your parents that you aren’t happy with how they are caring for your child. They don’t really like it and you still have to sit across from them during Thanksgiving dinner.

Tips for parents considering grandparent day care include discussing rule setting, along with concerns about a grandparent’s ability to physically keep up with the baby, and remembering to baby proof their surroundings, lest the toddler get into granny’s pill stash. These are good points to consider before putting any elderly person in charge of your child. But, in the end, the choice to hire a grandparent really does come down to the politics of balancing grandparent and caregiver roles. This balance isn’t just the responsibility of the grandparent, it’s yours as well. The one question to ask yourself before hiring grandma to do the job is this: Do you have it in you to tell your mom to stop mothering your own child because you’re the boss now?