Grandma’s Daycare Center
Grandparents providing routine childcare for their grandchildren has been “an increasing phenomenon” for several years, according to Foundation for Grandparenting Founder Arthur Kornhaber, M.D. Kornhaber attributes the growth in these arrangements to a greater need among parents, with more mothers working, and grandparents being more available as well as living longer.

According to the 2002 AARP Grandparenting Survey, 15 percent of respondents (who ranged in age from 45 to 80 ) said that they provide regular noncustodial childcare for their grandchildren, mostly while the parents are working. In the typical situation, the grandparents accept no pay. Some grandparents live in the same house as the grandchildren; others a few miles away.

This is a “win-win-win for all generations involved,” says Kornhaber. “It’s good for the kids because they feel secure and loved, and it’s good for the grandparents because it gives them a more meaningful connection with their grandchildren.”

Myra Carlow is an example of a “typical” caregiver. The 61-year-old grandmother provided part-time care for her two grandsons for nearly two years until she and her husband moved. The Carlows shared a two-family home with their daughter’s family and payment – hugs, kisses and memories – was of the non-negotiable variety.

“It was a great situation,” Carlow says. “I’ll never regret having done it.”

Mom Trish Donegan relied upon both her mother and her mother-in-law to care for her two daughters until she quit her full-time job to stay home with her girls. Donegan’s mother watched the girls two days a week, her mother-in-law took over one day each week and the girls went to a daycare center the other two days.

“It was the only way I could ‘afford’ to work, paying for only two days of daycare,” she says. “We were lucky to have been able to do this.”

It’s All About the Relationships

While the “grandparent daycare” concept sounds ideal in many ways, there are issues to consider. Carlow says it’s imperative to “keep clear, open channels of communication. You need to address all of those things that come up: thumb sucking, temper tantrums, what the kids are eating. ...” In Carlow’s case, the key to its success was that she respected her daughter’s decisions, she says. “However my daughter wanted to do things, I did them.”

And while grandparents might sometimes give grandchildren too many sweets or let them watch too much TV, many parents see these as minor issues compared to the love the children are getting. In fact, Kornhaber notes, these problems of overindulgence that parents might worry about rarely surface. “When grandparents see the kids so frequently, they don’t spoil them like they do when their visits are infrequent,” he explains.

Once grandparents and parents have decided on a childcare arrangement like this, Kornhaber adds, they are usually on the same page about most important child-rearing issues. “There aren’t any really big issues.”

But to keep things running smoothly, Kornhaber, like others, advises parents and grandparents to have frequent family meetings. “You need to constantly reassess how it’s going and keep communicating,” he says. Those discussions should include balancing everyone’s needs, including the grandparents’.

Grandparents should also be aware of how physically exhausting caring for young children can be, Carlow cautions – even if you’re a physically fit 61-year-old like her. For some grandparents, part-time care with days off in between is the solution.

Before You Sign On …

Amy Goyer, program coordinator for the AARP’s Grandparent Information Center, recommends the following steps before entering into a grandparent daycare situation:

• The Family Meeting – “It’s important,” says Goyer, “to be very clear about expectations, to discuss things beforehand and come to some agreement.”

For grandparents, you’ll want to have assurances on what your hours and days will be, and that you won’t be “taken advantage of,” says Goyer. For parents, that means letting the grandparents know what your rules are on issues like discipline, schedules, TV use, etc. These family discussions should continue on, at least, a monthly basis.

• Safety First – If childcare is to take place in the grandparents’ home, safety issues must be addressed. All of the usual age-appropriate precautions must be taken for indoor and outdoor areas, along with posting of emergency numbers and information. “Medications are a special issue,” Goyer says, “because many grandparents have to take them. Kids need to be protected from accidents.”

• Grandparenting 101 – Grandparents might want to consider brushing up on their discipline skills, says Goyer. “Some need to be educated on current practices, like time-outs, giving choices and the like.” Parenting classes are available in most communities – and more grandparents are taking them, she says.