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How Often Should Grandparents Babysit? What To Consider BEFORE Asking

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Inside: If you’re lucky enough to have grandparents living nearby, you might also be excited about the prospect of having built-in, trustworthy babysitters. We’ll help you answer the question of just how often should grandparents babysit, with some crucial things to keep in mind.

One of the hardest things about becoming a new parent is realizing that, at some point, you just might need a babysitter now and then (or, more regularly).

The second-hardest thing, I think, is finding out how complicated it really is to pinpoint and secure that reliable person. Then of course, fitting their services into your budget is another matter. 

This is where having a wonderful grandparent really can make a difference.

My sister, for example, found it SO much easier to return to work knowing that her baby was being doted on by her amazing in-laws, who just happened to offer to babysit for her son three days a week.

But not everyone has parents or in-laws who randomly request to watch their kids for free!

So what should you expect? How do you ask? What is reasonable? Let’s dig into this often tricky issue.

grandparents happily babysitting granddaughter, snuggling in bed together

What to Consider BEFORE Asking Grandparents to Babysit

I’m guessing that IF you’re here simply wondering how to ask grandparents to babysit, you’ve already addressed this elephant in the room.

But I’m going to briefly highlight it anyway.

Any Obvious Red Flags?

The most important question/hurdle to get past is: Are your child’s grandparents a good choice for a babysitter? Unfortunately, you can’t always assume this is the case. 

There are family dynamics, parenting styles, lifestyle choices, health concerns, other demands on their time. All things that might make babysitting out of the question.

Just because they’re available, possibly free and even willing, doesn’t mean they are automatically your best option.

It’s also a sad truth that sometimes you have to keep family members at arms’ length for a variety of really good reasons. And that’s ok.

Only you know your child’s grandparents (hopefully quite well), and only you can answer this question honestly.

If you have any hesitation at all about your parents or in-laws watching your children, this is the time to hash out those uncertainties, with your partner first if possible.

If it’s more than just a hesitancy to leave your kids with anyone else (because, you know, you’re pretty awesome), it needs to be dealt with before moving forward. 

There’s nothing worse than making the wrong assumption and then damaging your relationship — or worse, endangering your child’s well-being — all because you didn’t ask good questions or didn’t fully consider the pros and cons of the arrangement.

Pay or No Pay?

Another question to think about ahead of time is, do you plan to pay the grandparents to babysit? You might be surprised that your ideas and theirs are two different things.

Many grandparents think it’s entirely reasonable to be compensated, especially if they are going to be the main child care provider.

Plus, if your only other option is to hire an outside babysitter, you could divert that fund to a well-deserving grandparent instead.

They might really appreciate the pay, especially if they’re retired and on a fixed income.

Also keep in mind that they’re trading their hard-earned retirement days (or days off) for another “job” that is physically and emotionally demanding, as much as they might love it.

Other grandparents wouldn’t think of taking a dime for watching their grandchildren, even if you insisted.

The thing is, you won’t know if you don’t have the conversation. So it’s best to get it out of the way ahead of time.

Just How Often Are We Talking?

If you’re thinking it would be nice to have grandma watch the baby 5 days a week while you work, this is obviously vastly different from asking them to drop in for a date night once a month.

Each scenario requires a much different time commitment, planning, and logistics. 

How often do you really need a sitter, and what would best preserve or even enhance your family’s relationship with the grandparents, while giving you the support you need?

Another thing to think about is compromise.

If you were hoping for a full-time sitter but the grandparents aren’t really up for that, maybe one day or two days a week would be just right.

Many families do this and have another babysitter lined up for the other half of the week.

Related: Do Grandparents Want to Visit Too Much? Here’s How to Handle It

Managing Expectations with Grandparents Who Babysit

The topic of compromise brings us to our next serious reality check.

Once you have determined the grandparents are the ideal people for watching your kids for any length of time, and they agree (yay!), it’s time to think about what this will actually look like.

You might have all kinds of romantic ideas of how perfect your parents’ day with your kiddo will be.

A healthy, well-balanced breakfast followed by finger painting, nature study and nap time…right?

Uh, sure. A small percentage of grandparents might just BE those grandparents.

The majority, though, (50% or more, remember?) are probably going to feed them more sugar than you’d like and introduce them to the wondrous world of television at 4-months-old. You’ve been warned.

In all seriousness, you have to realize that grandparents are just people. They’re people a little older than you, often a little more tired, but no less in love with your child.

Their parenting styles with you (or your spouse) won’t give you much to go on. Many grandparents are much different with their grandkids. It’s this puzzling reality we all have to get used to.

My best advice is to honestly not have many expectations at all. Decide what your non-negotiables are, and learn to be ok with things off that list.

For instance, your list of “babysitting rules for grandparents” might include reasonable things like:

  • knowing First Aid,
  • avoiding unsafe foods,
  • always using a car seat, and
  • attempting at least one nap per day. 

If you expect them to rival the Montessori school for gifted toddlers downtown, you’re likely to be disappointed. That’s not why you recruited them, anyhow.

And that’s definitely not why they volunteered or agreed to help.

So you’ll need to take those micromanaged, idealistic notions and just put them on the fantasy shelf where they belong.

The bottom line? You have to accept the grandparents your kids have, not the ones you wish they had.

parents processing disappointing news about grandparents' inability to babysit

Dealing With Disappointment (It Happens)

Let’s say you have what seems to be the perfect agreement with your child’s grandparent(s). But then something goes south.

Maybe they’re not as reliable and they cancel every other time you make plans. Maybe they seem to babysit constantly for your siblings but never have quite as much time for your kids.

Maybe you moved to be close to a grandparent who said they wanted to help. But suddenly, life changes things, and that’s no longer a possibility.

Maybe you were saving $1000/month with your grandparent-sitting arrangement, and they suddenly decide they’re done.

I get it. It stinks, and it’s not fair sometimes. It might even throw a huge wrench in your career plans or your family budget.

And let’s be real: finding good childcare is HARD. Great support systems just don’t exist everywhere and new ones can take time to create.

But this goes back to managing those expectations, planning ahead and having honest conversations with the people you are trusting with your kids.

Maybe you could address it this way:

“I know we had a plan for you to watch Oliver on xyz days, and we appreciate that so much. But lately, it seems like you’re not available on the days you agreed to help us out. It’s causing XYZ problems.”

Most of the time, it’s not that your parents/in-laws are trying to hurt you or flake out when you need them most. Directly addressing the problem (in a kind way) may unearth a solution that you can work through together.

But it may be that you have to expect less, and always have a back-up plan.

It’s basically the same way when you recruit any other help with your kids. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t.

Maybe they bit off more than they could chew. It’s possible they feel more like hired help and less like a respected family member once a “business” arrangement has been made.

All of these things are possible and more.

It’s still worthwhile to keep the lines of communication open, and try not to take it personally, even though it definitely can feel that way.

(And it might even be that way, for whatever reason).

In some cases, you will decide it’s better to keep a good relationship with your parents than to constantly have to address the disappointment or the mad scramble that ensues when they don’t come through on their end.

grandfather sitting on couch holding not happy infant girl up in the air

If You’re The Grandparent: A Few Caveats

Since there might be a grandparent or two reading this, maybe you’re wondering how often to volunteer to babysit your grandkids. 

A willing grandparent can be an incredible blessing to new parents.

New parents may not yet know how to ask for help or may be afraid of having anyone watch their kids, depending on their child’s age, work situation, etc. So being sensitive to those new-parent feelings is a must.

As with most relationships, though, communication is key.

As you spend time together, you will know whether they’re ready to accept help, and how often they might appreciate having a night off (or more), and what their exact needs entail.

Don’t be afraid to directly ask them their plans for childcare and if they would like some help with babysitting. If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you exactly when and where!

But beware resentment.

I once heard another mom say:

“I use resentment as my guide to know what to say yes or no to. If I can say yes without resentment, I do it. If not, it’s a heck no.”

Make sure to be clear on your own needs and wants (including financial considerations). Don’t agree to a babysitting schedule that will foster resentment down the road just to keep the peace.

This can be a wonderful opportunity to get to know your grandkids better, with clear boundaries in place for both parties.

So, How Often Should Grandparents Babysit? I Wish There Was A “Right” Answer

We all know adulting is hard, and it’s harder when you have kids of your own. You want to give them the world.

If you’re reading this, you probably want your kids’ grandparents to be a part of that world and even share in some of the responsibility of caring for them, if they’re willing and able.

And you also just want some help, already! The village is gone, maternity/paternity leave is non-existent (at least in the U.S.), and it would sure be nice if grandparents stepped up to fill the void.

But these relationships can be tricky without babysitting expectations, so just be aware that there’s a delicate balance to maintain here.

Decide what’s really important to you and learn to let go of unrealistic demands for the perfect babysitting grandparent (i.e., the one who only exists in your head).

Once you have an understanding of this, you’ll be better prepared to know:

  • who to ask for help,
  • when and how much to ask for help, and
  • how to accept that help, graciously.

If they want to help at all, and they get the green light from you, that’s miraculous. Truly.

Take the win, and trust that the rest will work itself out.

Read Next: Are Grandparents Buying Too Many Gifts? How to Address It Now (Don’t Wait!)


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