Grandparents as Babysitters –
The Good, the Bad & the Funny!
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.
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 them have much of a relationship with them. They lived close by 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.
#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.
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!
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.