When Grandma is Daycare



Grandparents end up watching their grandchildren for a variety of reasons, including being the most trustworthy from the parent’s viewpoint, wanting to bond more with their grandkids, helping the parents save money by not paying too much at a childcare center and/or because babysitting the grandkids is a way for grandma to make money. Some grandparents watch the children during a long workday; others spend a few hours with the grandkids in the evening or weekends when their parent(s) go out.

            No one knows for sure exactly how many grandparents give care to their grandchildren but the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that grandparents provide 23 percent of the care for children under the age of 5. And if the children live in a single parent, male-headed household, the statistics of grandma as caregiver rises to 34 percent.

            Another source, the National Survey of Families and Households, from 1992-1994, showed that 47 percent of the grandparents who live near (within 50 miles of) their children provide some time of childcare assistance to their adult children.

            After his divorce, Rick Heckt needed someone to help send his kids off to school. Heckt’s start time at work is six in the morning but his children don’t need to wake up until at least an hour after that. So he asked his mother to step in. Every other week when Heckt has his kids, his mom goes to his house by 6:30 a.m. to make sure the kids get dressed, fed and to school on time. She is also the first person who gets called if they get sick at school or have an emergency. For her help, she is paid a few hundred dollars a month that she uses as extra spending money. But more than the money, she enjoys the time she gets to spend with them.

            According to Child Trends, a research group in Washington D.C., and the Lina Guzman, Ph.D. article “Grandma and Grandpa Taking Care of the Kids: Patterns of Involvement”, more than 19 percent of grandparents get paid for the care they provide. Some of these grandparents have full-time jobs or part-time jobs and watch the children in addition to their other work. Others care for their grandchildren in lieu of another job. Thirteen percent of the grandparents in the Child Trends study care for their grandchildren for more than 41 hours per week.

            But having your parent as your primary childcare provider can present challenges, for both you as the child’s parent and for the grandparent. Watching kids can be stressful. An article in the Journal of Nursing (v. 25, issue 4) called “Caregiver Stress in Grandparents Raising Grandchildren”, highlighted the psychological distress older adults can experience when providing care for their grandchildren. Sometimes this distress is caused by the differing viewpoints on childrearing between the parent and grandparent, and sometimes it is caused by the grandchild not minding the rules of the grandparent (or from thinking grandma is a “pushover”). Other contributing factors to the added stress include the grandparent having less than perfect health, not as much stamina as she used to, or thinking the parents asking too much. Grandparents may not voice objections or be as honest with their opinions as they could be (or say “no” to the parents as often as they would like to) for fear of adding to an already stressed and taxed parent’s worries, especially during these precarious financial times.

            This extra stress can take a toll on grandma’s health. Ina 2003 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, an article titled “Caregiving to children and grandchildren and the risk of coronary heart disease in women” proved that grandmothers who provide child care for more than nine hours a week had higher risks of heart disease than those who provided no care.

            But there are ways to limit this amount of stress. First, by keeping communication lines open, all family members can benefit from grandma being the primary caregiver. Second, parents need to reinforce the idea to their children that grandma or grandpa’s discipline is just as valid as theirs. Just because grandma lets them get away with one thing doesn’t mean that she isn’t to be heeded when she tells them to do something. Third, just as employees get vacations, don’t forget to give grandma some days off to rest and recuperate, especially if you are expecting her to work more hours than you do (i.e. getting to your house before you leave for work in the morning and staying there until well after you get home). 

Having grandparents being the primary caregiver can be a win-win for everyone in the family. Grandparents, who spend quantities of time with their grandchildren especially when the grandchildren are young, have the opportunity to form deep lifelong bonds. And parents have the peace of mind to know that their children are being well cared for by a family member—the same one who raised them. 

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