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Grandparents as Babysitters

Congratulations, you just became a grandparent! The odds are fairly good that you also became a part-time to full-time babysitter.

Depending on your children’s work and relationship statuses, many grandparents are finding themselves in the role of caregiver to their grandchildren. The proportion of preschoolers cared for primarily by their grandparents while their mothers work rose to 19.4 percent in 2005, from 15.9 percent in 1995, according to the Census Bureau. A wave of closings and cutbacks in child-care facilities suggest the trend is continuing.

This is no reason to panic or fret. Indeed, many areas of child care have changed since you raised your kids; then again, many areas are the same as they were. With some conversation and ground rules set, the babysitting experience can be a rewarding experience for you and a godsend for your children.

First, talk to your kids about expectations—your time and expertise is yours to share. Certainly, they don’t want to take advantage of your time and availability. Secondly, find out how they like to do things. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from your children. Here are some conversation starters:

Your Time

Set your limits. Remember that your time is yours to give. Make sure that your children understand your schedule and that they can keep surprises to a minimum. Also, you should also consider when you can’t serve as a babysitter, and be honest about any conflicts that you may have in your schedule.

Their Rules

Raising children is like riding a bicycle; you never really forget how to do it. However, this bicycle has many gears and bells and whistles you’ve not seen before. Many times the older adult’s opinions on how to take care of children differs from their child's way of doing things and this can create conflict between the generations. It’s important for the older adult to respect that their child is now a parent and adhere to their rules when it comes to watching their children.

It is now advised that babies be put to sleep on their backs now instead of their stomachs to prevent sudden infant death syndrome. Blankets and stuffed animals are also forbidden to be in the crib with an infant.

Most likely when you were raising kids, car seats like your grandkids’ didn’t even exist. Now it is a law. Make sure you have a car seat available for use and have it properly installed in your vehicle.

Your Health

Babysitting children is not the same at age 67 as it is at 37. You get tired more easily. It’s harder to lift and carry children. Babies can be slippery in the bathtub. Can you handle these tasks? Talk to your children about these expectations, as well. Be honest with them. It’s OK to say that you have certain energy and pain thresholds that may hold you back. Let them know what you can do and are comfortable doing.

Your Role

Be very specific here. You are the babysitter. You aren’t the cook, the laundry maid, or the butler. It’s OK to be very specific as to what your role is as a babysitter. If your children ask for additional household jobs to be done, make sure that’s what you want as part of this experience. If you are willing to do those jobs and get paid for them, arrange a financial outcome for your services. Again, be honest. Your time is valuable, and your rates are probably a lot cheaper.

Your Preparation

In addition to brushing up on the latest trends in babysitting and parenting, you may need to make some changes to your home if the babysitting is going to occur in your household. Medications and dangerous chemicals need to be put away and locked up. If you live in a two-story house, or have a basement, perhaps you’ll need a special gate to keep toddlers from going down the stairs. Make sure you have all small items like marbles, put away to keep children from swallowing them. As mentioned before, most of these are common sense tips that you’ll remember from your parenting days.

Your Reward

Babysitting your grandchildren is a great way to get to know them and learn more about their worlds. This time can truly be a gift. It’s also an opportunity for you to feel useful. Don’t take that for granted! Whether this is an outlet for you, or it is something else, you need to keep engaged with your family and with the community as you get older.

A version of this article appeared in the Private Health News