Grandparents: Nature’s babysitters. If your children are lucky enough to have grandparents around, and those grandparents are willing to watch them, you’d be a fool not to take advantage. When you’re the one watching your grandchildren, though, knowing that you’re being taken advantage of can be irritating. Establishing clear rules and expectations upfront keeps everyone happy, and saves parents from the dreaded task of paying a bored teen to watch the children.
Follow the House Rules
Grandparents corner the market on spoiling children, and while that might be fine in small doses, toddlers and preschoolers can’t be gorging on chocolate and receiving new toys every day of the week. Parents need to lay down the laws of the house, and grandparents have to follow them. Try scheduling a meeting before babysitting begins, or write up a list of guidelines and pass copies out to all grandparents. As a parent, though, you have to leave some wiggle room to accommodate the beliefs and experiences of the grandparents. One way to do this is to make it clear what your hard lines are. For instance, explain that bedtimes, accepted snacks and disciplinary practices are non-negotiable, but give the grandparents the freedom to choose daily activities and determine what behaviors warrant discipline.
Handing your own mother a crisp $20 on her way out the door might seem strange to both of you, but expecting grandparents to drop everything and watch the kids without any compensation isn’t fair. Some families might create an arrangement in which the caretakers are paid, or at least get cash to put toward gas, but this option isn’t your only one. Reward your kids’ grandparents with gift cards for dinners out or, if your little ones travel to their house, pay for a once- or twice-a-month cleaning service to come in and repair the damage your munchkins create. If you prefer an even looser arrangement, send thank-you cards and bouquets of flowers along with the kids every now and then, and spring for a few random gifts throughout the year.
The grandparents who grew up rough and tumble have the best stories, but often make the most frightening caretakers. A grandfather who grew up during World War II and never strapped his kids into seatbelts might not be quite as well-versed in car seat operation as a modern parent, but if he’s going to take care of the kids, he’s gotta learn fast. Offer a tutorial — and give frequent refreshers if necessary — about how to operate the car seat, stroller and high chair. For good measure, show him how to operate your home’s audio and TV systems, then write out a detailed instruction guide. Draw illustrations, if necessary. Medical practices have changed too. If your senior caregiver swears by rubbing some sort of foul-smelling gunk on your toddler’s chest for a cold, you might let that go, but ensure that she knows exactly how to operate his inhaler or administer a shot from an epipen, if necessary.
If someone’s feelings get hurt — whether it’s the parent, grandparent or child — Thanksgiving dinner is going to be one awkward gathering. Everyone, from the youngest toddler to the oldest and crankiest grandparent, has to show respect to all others in order to make this type of arrangement work. Before each sitting session, get down at eye-level to your children and say something like, “You need to follow the same rules with Grandma that you do with me. Even if you get frustrated, you must always be kind to her.” If you’re the grandparent, don’t go rummaging through bedroom drawers or make disparaging comments about your children to their kids. In this situation, as in most, the Golden Rule applies: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. It’s the families who forget that rule who end up on daytime courtroom shows, and that’s not good for anyone.