Grandparents as Babysitters

Baby standing at small wooden stool - Adventures in NanaLand

Grandparents as Babysitters –
The Good, the Bad & the Funny!

Grandparents as babysitters - Adventures in NanaLand

So, what happens when the grandparents babysit? I suppose that depends on how long you have been out of practice. When our oldest grandchild was born, Papa and I decided that we couldn’t wait to babysit! We thought that using grandparents as babysitters was the best gift we could give our children because we didn’t have that luxury!

I swear I only left Papa alone for just a few minutes while I went to clean up a mess in the kitchen. But you can bet I came running when I heard Papa shouting for help! As I was running towards the family room where I left him and our new little grandson, he started yelling for me to bring paper towels. . .and lots of them!

When I arrived on the scene, I almost fell on the floor laughing and to this day it is a running joke in our family to “grab some paper towels. . . lots of them!” It left me wondering if we were really still qualified to watch these little humans on our own. I could see from the mess downstairs that we had some catching up to do.

Before I finish my story, let’s talk about some of the most asked questions I get on the subject of using grandparents as babysitters.

#1 – Grandparents as Babysitters: Are grandparents obligated to babysit?

As indicated, this is the #1 question that I get asked when it comes to grandparents and babysitting their grandchildren. I, personally, don’t feel that anyone should ever feel obligated to do anything! Grandparents should have the right to say, “No” without repercussions. I have addressed this issue before in our Commandment #7 for Grandparents.

It is so painful for me to see the number of grandparents in Facebook groups and around the internet who are kept away from their grandchildren. This is usually a result of adult children who use the grandkids as little hostages to get their parents to do whatever they want on THEIR terms.

Grandparents as Babysitters - Adventures in NanaLand

So, don’t just say, “No.” Be open in your communication with your adult children. They need to understand that just because they chose to have children, this does NOT create an obligation on your part. Let them know when and under what circumstances that you WILL babysit. . .if you want to.

The other aspect here that adult children don’t always understand is that we grandparents want the fun part. We did our duty raising our children – we DID the hard part. Now, we want to spoil and play with the kids. We’ve earned it! If we become the babysitters too often, that also means we have to become the disciplinarians. That takes some of the fun out of things. (I’ll address the discipline issue more in question #3 below.)

When our relationship with our grandchildren gets too “normal”, it sometimes loses that special feeling of being with grandma and grandpa. At our house, we try to have a good mix of both. We love to babysit our Littles often and sometimes that means having to discipline, but we do our fair share of spoiling too.

#2 – Grandparents as Babysitters: Are parents obligated to have their children spend time with the grandparents? Babysitting or otherwise??

I, personally, don’t feel that anyone should ever feel obligated to do anything! Parents should have the right to say, “No” without repercussions.

Ha! Yes, I DID just apply this rule to both parties!

Along with this goes what we talked about in Grandparent Commandments #1 & #6. (Oh dear, I am referring to those commandments a lot! Maybe you should read that now if you haven’t already. You can go now if you would like, I’ll just wait here for you.) These children belong to their parents, not you! You need to respect their time and space. Sometimes they need “core” family time together. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It’s just a healthy boundary.

Having said that, if your children want you to have a good, strong relationship with your grandchildren, there is going to have to be some time spent together. Sometimes parents worry that the grandparents are going to “out do” them in terms of entertainment and gifts. If this is a problem for your adult children, stick with the basics. . .just do the simple things that create that special bond between grandchildren and their grandparents. And. . .don’t forget your long distance grandkids. They need to bond with you too!

My parents are a good. . .or should I say bad. . .example of not spending time with grandkids. My parents are great people. They just aren’t kid people. So, they did not spend much time with our kids except for seeing them occasionally on holidays and sometimes their birthdays. They warmed up and tried when the kids became teenagers, but only a few of the grandchildren have much of a relationship with them. They lived nearby so my children really felt like they missed out on a close relationship with their grandparents.

So, as you can see, there needs to be some give and take, a healthy amount of good communication, and A LOT of respect for each generation.

Little girl pouting while sitting in the corner - Grandparents as Babysitters - Adventures in NanaLand#3 – Grandparents as Babysitters: How much discipline can grandparents use when babysitting their grandchildren?

Boy, this one sparks a lot of controversy! There are 5 basic rules to follow when you are considering what and how much discipline that you can use with your grandkids – expectations, communication and love are the most important ingredients. But, let’s chat just a minute about discipline vs. punishment. Some people just can’t appreciate the difference.

Punishment is when you dole out consequences based upon reaction or anger. Kids often will fear the punishment and YOU as well. Discipline, on the other hand, is the natural consequence (which should be decided beforehand) when they make a choice. Then administer the consequences without the influence of angry emotions. These often make for great teaching moments. . .which is another one of our “commandments” – Thou shalt teach and inspire! (Really, you can go read it now if you want.)

Disciplining grandchildren is so much about expectations. You might be surprised at how many times children will rise to the standard that you set for them – especially if they want to be with you.

Our Littles know that we have certain rules and consequences in our home. More often than not, our rules are stricter than what they deal with at their house. However, we don’t get any backlash from them. They love being at our house so much that they are willing to observe and respect our rules.

#4 – Grandparents as Babysitters: Should grandparents get paid for babysitting?

As grandparents, most of us won’t accept money for babysitting. However, if you are talking about a full-time gig, you may want to consider it. I look at it this way, if I am sick or simply want a day off, our children are going to have to find someone else to babysit for them. Then it won’t be difficult for them to pay someone else for the day if they are used to paying for childcare (even if it’s just a small amount),  Your kids should be considerate enough to at least offer to pay you! And, if you give up working another job to watch your grandkids, well. . .you had better get paid! Just sayin’. . .

On the other hand, if you are babysitting – full time, part time, or just on occasion – so you can spend more time with your grandchildren, then that is usually payment enough.

The bottom line on this is that you need to communicate the needs and desires to your adult children. You need to discuss how much is too much or not enough. Come to an agreement BEFORE you take on a commitment. After the fact, will surely cause hurt feelings. Sonja Hilbrand, a researcher from the 2016 Berlin Study called Caregiving Within and Beyond the Family had this to say:

“As long as you do not feel stressed about the intensity of help you provide, you may be doing something good for others as well as for yourself.”

That actually brings me to the last question. . .

#5 – Grandparents as Babysitters: What are the benefits to having grandparents as babysitters?

You might be surprised about this one! There are actually some studies out there, like the one I just mentioned, that say that caregiving for your grandchildren can help you to live a longer and happier life! I’m definitely in favor of that!! As long as tending your grandchildren doesn’t put an excess strain on your physical health, your emotional capacity, or the family finances, it can be a win-win.

Another benefit is that your grandchildren are not being tended by strangers. These days it can be a bit scary even when you think you know people. I’m not saying that all caregivers are abusers, but things do happen. For that reason, I’m glad that I am usually available to tend my Littles. And, I think it provides peace of mind for my children that their children are being loved and maybe a bit spoiled. 😉

Of course, one of the biggest benefits that I know of is that I am building lasting relationships with my Littles. If you have read much of anything from me, you know that I am all about strengthening family relationships. To this day, I still have a really strong relationship with my aunt who tended me quite often as I was growing up. Those bonds really last!

As those little people grow, they will know you better and you will know them. You will understand each other and be able to better communicate. . .especially in those critical teenage years when they may need you most.

Grandpa holding new baby - Grandparents as Babysitters - Adventures in NanaLand
Papa still holds the babies, but no diaper changing!

Papa the Great Babysitter. . .Well, Kind of. . .

I should probably finish my little story about Papa and the new grandbaby. For those of you who feel that you are out of practice changing diapers, this one’s for you!

As I ran downstairs to rescue either Papa or the baby (didn’t know which at the time), I saw that Papa had attempted to change a stinky diaper. He had just got the mess cleaned up and the new diaper underneath the little bum when our sweet baby began “messing” again. . .and it was kind of runny!

Papa looked at me in sheer panic and screamed, “It just keeps coming! Get over here and bring those paper towels!” I was a little slow in getting to him, since I was laughing so hard that I could hardly walk! The sight of those two still makes me laugh today!

Needless to say, both the baby AND Papa needed a bath after that. And, of course. . .I had to clean up the whole mess. Much to our relief, Papa has never again attempted to change another diaper on any of our Littles.

Only You Can Decide

I’m going to leave you with one of my favorite grandparent quotes from Alex Haley:

“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents can do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”

Only you can decide if babysitting your grandchildren works in your life. But, if it does, then make the most of it! You can “sprinkle stardust over the lives of your grandchildren” and make magic happen. It can strengthen the relationships among three generations of your family.

Cookies & Milk for Everyone!

Nana Jill Signature with yellow flower



P.S. If you have a funny “grandparents as babysitters” story, please leave it in the comments below! Then I will know that we are not alone in our failed attempts.

13 thoughts on “Grandparents as Babysitters”

  1. Debra Darnofall

    This Christmas I got to enjoy spending one-on-one time with my 4 yo grandson. When mama came home and it was time for me to leave he said with a pouty face, “Grammy, I’m tired of saying goodbye.” Heartwarming to say the least!

    1. Oh Debra, that is so sweet! Things like that just make me melt for those little ones.

  2. I am happy to have found this blog – I never thought there was something out there for grandparents! My husband and I were older when we started our own family, so now that we have our very first grandchild, we are now “older” grandparents – my husband is now 80 years old with health issues, and I am 70 with arthritic knees. Our darling granddaughter was born during the Covid pandemic, and both her parents need to work full-time and have just moved into their first house. Because they are fearful of leaving their 10 month old at daycare because of the cost they can’t afford or because of the pandemic, we grandparents are tasked with babysitting. We share the 5 days a week with her other grandparents (younger than we are). We are so in love with our adorable granddaughter and love being with her, and so desperately want to help out our daughter, but it is proving to be too much for us – but what choice do any of us have? The long days – 12 hours with the commute to their house back and forth (bringing her to our house is greatly out of their way for their jobs) are deeply exhausting – and trying to fill her days and keep her busy when not napping or eating – is effecting our health. We don’t have the money to help them pay for daycare, and we also have needs of our own (doctor appointments, home repairs, church obligations, etc.) that we have to keep putting off because we don’t have enough days of the week free. Ugh. I am intrigued that most of the comments here on this blog focus on the JOY of grandparents babysitting, and not on how taxing and stressful it can be for those of us with health or age issues. Makes me feel guilty that I find watching a 10 month old so “demanding”: please take into consideration the fact that not ALL grandparents have the stamina to care for the needs of an infant, no matter how desperately they want to do so.

    1. You’re right, Deb. The older we get, the more difficult it can be for the grandparents to serve as babysitter. I think most people push through the hard things because they try to appreciate the time they get. However, when you are full-time daycare, it’s a whole other story! I’m heading into a season where I’m going to be providing more daycare for my Littles on a regular basis. Perhaps, I will be able to add more insight for those who are doing more than occasional babysitting. Thank you for reminding us that this great service to our families it isn’t always easy.

  3. Janet McMurtry

    My husband was watching our 8-9 month old grandson who had a dirty diaper. My husband had a struggled with the box of wipes, he actually thought there were no wipes in the container. So to cleanup the baby, he held him in the tub and took down the shower handle and “hosed” him off. Good idea in theory but traumatized the little guy enough that when he had baths, we had to cover the shower head with a washcloth or towel. Lol….he is 4 now and will actually shower now.

    1. Oh Janet, that’s great! I’m glad my hubby isn’t the only one who struggled with those diaper changes. Ha ha! And… it’s a good thing kids are resilient and can recover when we fumble a bit. Thanks for sharing!

  4. l am brand new finding Nanaland and so thankful l did. Maybe you can give me some hope !!! My journey in life has been a nightmare since April 2009, the day my beautiful 27 year old daughter passed. My daughter Carly was 4 months away from getting married. We were on our yearly family trip in Jamaica when her life was taken from a fatal car accident. I am still struggling each and everyday without my daughter. I was blessed with two healthly children, our family always close, including my parents. My son and his wife gave us two healthy beautiful grandsons. One is 2 and years old and the other is 3 months old throughout all this time my husband and myself have never been asked to babysit my first grandson and we have onky seen my second grandson 8 times since he was born. We are struggling with the death of my daughter and when we found out we wwre finally going to be grandparents, l myself found new hope for our lives. Everything seem to change after my son got married his wife set unbearable boundries against us. We are not allowed to visit their home. The only 4 times we have been invited over since our 1st grandson was born was his 2 birthdays 2020 &2021 , the day they brought my second grandson home Sept.2021, and the last time was when everyone was sick with colds. We bought grocies, l made homemade chicken soup and other meals. That day was October 23rd, 2021 , and if we ask to visit there is always an excuse of some sort. My daufhter in law has laid out threats to my son that she will leave him if things are not done her way. The only time we get any bonding with my older grandson is 3 to 4 times a month is when my son will visit and those visits are rushed because of my grandsons afternoon naps and bedtime. We are only seeing my 1st grandson a total pf maybe 8 hours a month. My youngest grandson we have only seen 8 times the last was Christmas Day when l cooked and they all came for supper and ipening presents. As l write this letter to you my tears are falling will there be any hope left for all of us to enjoy each other again. And l failed to mention our homes are only 2 miles away fom each other. Also my 2 year old grandson has been in daycare since he was 18 months old and just for him to go is $1,200.00 a month. I have offered to babysit infact l was so excited to be asked. Not even one day a week to spend time alone with my grandson. Who loves walking into our home and saying ” Nana and Nono , where are you ! I am here ! All l know is that my grandsons found us joy. I am going to be 62 in May and my husband will be 65 in May , time is running out !!! Sincerely, a greiving mother and nana

    1. Debbie, it always breaks my heart to hear of a grandparent who is restricted on seeing their grandchildren. If I had to guess, your daughter-in-law must have had some bad experiences in her past (either with her parents or grandparents) to be keeping you at bay like that. Remember, you are coming from a different perspective because you come from a close family but maybe she didn’t. It’s also possible that she may feel insecure in her role as mother and doesn’t want the relationships with her children displaced by a grandparent. The more simple explanation would maybe be the fear this pandemic has placed in so many. Your oldest grandson is only 2 which means that your daughter-in-law has only known having children during this crazy, mixed-up time.

      The bottom line is that you can’t force her to change. . .however, you may try to love her into trusting that you only have the best interest of your grandchildren at heart. My advice would be to do what you can (and are allowed to) and then gradually, over time, you could ask your daughter-in-law for more time with the boys. Make sure you express that you want a relationship with them before “time runs out” as you put it. And, whatever you do, make sure you understand the boundaries and don’t overstep them. I’ve heard from so many grandparents about how that got them banned from seeing their grandchildren altogether.

      Keep hopeful that things will grow and get better. This pandemic has had everyone a little crazy and fearful. I hope this year we will see that change. There’s always the chance that after that “new mama” phase is over, she will loosen up a bit too. Take heart, 62 and 65 are not that old. You may still have plenty of time to spend with those precious boys. Be grateful for the time you do have and make the most of it.

      And, I’m so sorry for the loss of your daughter. Keep her love in your heart. Tell stories about her and show photos of her to your grandsons so they will “know” her the best they can. That will keep her memories alive for all of you. God bless your family!

      1. Dear Jill, thank you for writing me back. Your advice makes alot sense with the covid and has made life very different. Things have not changed with my daughter in law. I have done exactly what you said respect her boundies. My husband has said the same thing, just be patient. We cannot risk not seeing our two grandsons at all. We have to take what we get for now and just maybe our daughter in law will change. I think your right about her up bringing with her parents. There is not the family closeness that our family has and it makes things difficult. My daughter in law is like night and day, when she comes over she is nice. But the moment it comes to us wanting to visit or babysit there is always an excuse why we cannot do either. All we can do is keep hoping because the older my grandsons get they will be wanting to spend more time with us. Thank you so much for your kind words about my daughter in Heaven. I am already telling my older grandson about his auntie and always poiting out her pictures. That will always be they will know their auntie. Sincerely, Debbie

  5. Deborah

    I told my children I would babysit our granddaughter for the first year, three days a week, which morphed into five days a week. I’m on my second year and now they have a second child. I took baby steps and did finally ask for gas money. It’s like working full time with no pay. I went from going to the office one day a week to having a drive somewhere five days a week. It changed my lifestyle from having free time to zero time for myself and impacted my work and pay.

    I’ve had to have a few talks with the children because I feel they don’t appreciate(they do but in a different way then I was raised) the sacrifice I’m making.

    What you say is true it’s hard to know the boundaries and you know I’m with her five days a week and when I hear oh we’re going to the zoo and we’re going or the park and we’re never invited. I try to encourage them to let my husband and I participate in outside activities because that’s the grandparent family time that is so important. I do need to separate the caregiver from the grandparent aspect of our lives.

    It’s such a pleasure to watch her grow and see things that I know I went through with my children but my patience has softened through the years and enables me to thoroughly enjoy watching her grow.

    Overall if you can help I highly recommend it five days a week is a lot and I could feel on Friday my stress level increasing but I’m so grateful that I’m in a place that I can help them save money and build their lives and do things with their children.

    Thanks for letting me talk about my experience ❣️

    1. Oh boy, Deborah! That is so hard. It really tears us grandparents apart when we want to help our children, and we love spending time with our grandchildren, but things just aren’t as they always seem. When we lose that time for ourselves and time to rejuvenate our energy, we end up with some resentment and may become just plain worn out. It’s so difficult to say “no” or “no more” because then we may get cut off completely. . .or, we may feel guilty. Ugh!

      The boundaries are delicate to navigate but truly necessary. I’m sure you love your granddaughter, but you do need those other experiences with her. Being the caregiver cannot be the only way you interact. That will get old and not as much fun for either of you. You seem happy to help out, but my best advice here is to watch that line between being helpful and enabling. I’ve watched way too many of my peers and others who have gone before me simply enable their adult children in the name of helping!! It just doesn’t ever work out well for either party.

      Thank you for sharing your story!

  6. Karen B

    I love this as a parent! I know that I have seen other parents use their parents as obligatory babysitters and the loving, but tired expression the Grandparent gives when asked to watch the Grandchildren again, or while they are watching them. I so wish that more Grandparents could say “no” when needed as you have suggested. I don’t like seeing the toll it can take on them, watching those “Littles” everyday, all day long.

    I also really like that you mentioned the relationship. I think it’s important to let the Grandparents be Grandparents (same with Aunts & Uncles) and to leave the parenting to the parents. Sure they will need to be disciplined and it’s important for them to have a good relationship. But when you start to treat one set of grandchildren like your own children and start to treat some other sets like an outside force to be dealt with there is truly a problem and maybe you are doing to much.

    Thanks for your insight and sorry for the long comment.

    1. I’m so glad that you were willing to share, Karen! It’s good to know that there are parents out there who feel the same way. I know exactly what you are talking about when things get a little lopsided in the grandparent/grandchildren relationships. I have seen it and witnessed the toll it takes on some grandparents. If we could all just communicate better, I think the world would have better relationships all around. Thanks for being here and sharing your thoughts!

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