Do’s and Don’ts of Using Grandparents for Child Care
Lessons learned from both grandparents and parents about navigating these relationships.
Several of the working parents we interviewed say their relationships with their parents and in-laws improved when the older relatives helped with their keiki. But parents caution against taking older relatives’ help lightly and to recognize the trade-offs that grandparents must make to provide that care. Here’s what they’ve learned while navigating these relationships.
Make sure the grandparent has everything he or she needs to watch your child. David “Kawika” Mattos, a grandfather of six, says that includes everything from diapers to formula, clothes and medications so the grandparents won’t have to scramble for them later. After all, it might have been awhile since grandparents had to think about all the things babies need.
Communicate. If you’re running late leaving work, give the grandparent a heads up, Mattos says.
Joanne Niwa, a grandmother of six, adds that parents should also warn the caregiver if the child has a food allergy or is struggling with something. And if the child is giving Grandma trouble, Grandma should let the parents know so that everyone’s on the same page.
Show your appreciation. Kaua‘i chef Winnie Littlejohn says she’s tried to pay her in-laws for watching her 6-year-old son while she’s at work. They’ve never taken the money, though, so she buys them food they enjoy as a gesture of appreciation.
Give the grandparents a break, especially if they live with you. Mom-of-four Leilani Tuitele says she and her husband try to take the kids out with them and give her parents as much alone time as they can. Her parents never complain about watching them, but she understands they also need time to rest and relax.
“I think recharging is important and making sure that they are taking time for themselves,” she says. “Because I do feel bad. This is supposed to be their retirement time. They’re supposed to travel and so I do take time off just to make sure they are able to do that and not worry about the kids or myself.”
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Don’t micromanage the grandparents. For example, the baby’s naptime might be different at the grandparents’ house. If it’s more convenient for the grandparents, that should be OK, says first-time mom Starla Takahara. “Of course, we can set healthy boundaries,” she says. “I do acknowledge that. But it’s not like nitpick at what they do because at that point it’ll seem like you’re not appreciative.”
Don’t always assume they will be available to watch your child, Mattos says, because grandparents have lives. “Don’t assume that that’s their role; appreciate that role.”
Don’t take their help for granted. “I got really lucky,” Littlejohn says. “I know it’s not this easy for everyone. It’s just: Show constant appreciation. Never take advantage of them.” She says her in-laws have “bent over backward” to make sure their grandson is well taken care of.