You will no doubt have been just as excited at the prospect of a new family member arriving, as the expectant parent themselves. The prospect of a new arrival will probably have had memories of your own pregnancy and baby experiences running through your head, and you know that you have a wealth of support and advice to pass on to the new parents. But before you rush in and volunteer your advice and your offers to babysit whenever they need you, take a step back and think about what it is that you are committing to.
Respect Your Children’s Values
Even though you dote on your grandchildren and want what is best for them, you must remember that this is your grandchild, and not your child. You must communicate openly and regularly with your grandchild’s parents to ensure that you have a clear understanding of their expectations regarding the care of their children. Even though you may believe that your way is best, you must adhere to any guidelines that are set down regarding mealtimes, treats and bedtime routines. Make sure that whenever you are babysitting you have a list of contact numbers should an emergency situation arise, and have a good understanding of the child’s medical history should you need to give information to medical staff before the child’s parents arrive.
Understand the Commitment You Are Making
There is a clear distinction between occasional babysitting and daily childminding; make it clear to the parents just what you are volunteering for. Babysitting means that you will be looking after your grandchildren for a couple of hours of an evening now and again so that their parents can enjoy time together as a couple. Childminding means that you are going to be that child’s primary care giver throughout the day from the moment its parents leave for work on a morning until they come home in the evening.
Childminding is a full time job, and you need to think carefully about whether you are prepared to take on such a binding commitment. Think about the effects that it will have on your own life, your daily routine and your own social commitments. Make it clear just how much help you are prepared to give. All too often a grandparent will volunteer for babysitting duties only to find that they are expected to step into the role of primary caregiver at a moment’s notice, it can leave you feeling taken for granted and underappreciated.
Rules and Boundaries
Being asked to care for your grandchild for extended periods of time means that you are going to be placed in the position of having to enforce the rules and boundaries that your grandchild’s parents have laid down regarding what is acceptable behaviour for their child. Being placed in this position alters the dynamic of the relationship that you have with your grandchildren. If you don’t abide by the rules that have been set out and enforce and punishments you will be sending confusing messages to the child which will impact on its future behaviour, but taking on the role of disciplinarian will see you becoming less of a mentor/companion for the child and more of substitute parent. You need to ask yourself whether this is something that you really want to do.
Looking After Your Health
Looking after a child of any age can be challenging so you need to be sure that you are fit and healthy enough to meet the challenges of the role. Caring for a child is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding and by the end of the day you could find yourself dead on your feet. It’s not a nice thing to say, but children are amazing carriers of germs and viruses and if you have a weak immune system you could find yourself battling one infection after another. You need to weigh up the pros and cons that the role of childminder or babysitter will have on your own health and well being, there is no sense taking on a role that is going to have a negative impact on your quality of life.
Money is often a subject that causes bad feeling in families, but if you are going to be spending time looking after your grandchildren, feeding them and entertaining them you need to know that you are going to be able to afford it, especially if you are looking at five days a week full time care. Let’s face it you are on a limited budget and having to spend money on extras every day it is going to have an impact on your cost of living. Ask if the parents are willing to contribute to these extra costs, you are not asking for a wage as such, but something along the lines of an allowance to cover out of pocket expenses. Compared to the costs of having their children cared for in a private nursery they are getting off very lightly.
Plan Your Time
Despite the added demands, looking after your grandchildren can have plenty of benefits. You have been provided with a unique opportunity to bond with them and create memories that will stay with them long after you have left their lives. Plan activities that you can do together each day, not only will it give your day structure you will be able to pass on your knowledge and skills to a future generation. The more organised your day is the less stressed you should be by the time the children go back to their parents.
Take a Test Drive
Before you jump in with both feet have a trial run to make sure that you are up for the job. This will give you a better understanding of the demands, as well as the ups and downs that each day will bring. Only when you are sure that you are prepared for the trials and tribulations of being the children’s primary care giver should you commit to fully taking on the role. Should you feel that you can’t commit to it full time, explain this to the child’s parents and come to some agreement where you can have your grandchildren alternate days rather than full time, they will have to find a solution for the rest of the time. Just because they are your grandchildren it doesn’t mean that you are obliged to have them every day, you have done your time child rearing; ultimately the day to day care of your grandchildren is the responsibility of their parents, not yours.