Grandparents on Nanny Duty

Rebecca, 56 of Aurora is the caregiver for her two-year-old grand-daughter five days a week. “My daughter drops Sydney off every morning,” she explains. “I enjoy taking care of her and it helps my daughter and her husband defray the costs of child care.”

According to Stats Canada (2002-03), 54 per cent of children in the six months- to- five- years age range receive care from people other than their parents, up 42 per cent in eight years. The proportion of children being cared for by relatives in the same eight-year period rose from eight to 14 per cent.

There are lots of reasons besides the cost of a daycare centre or a live-in nanny for choosing a grandparent as the caregiver.  Finding a recommended daycare centre close to home or work is the first challenge. Secondly, daycare centers have a schedule to keep and may close before a parent finishes the workday.

A live-in (or out) nanny may have more flexible hours, making it easier to schedule play dates or appointments for children, but can be expensive enough that the second income in the family is hardly worth the cost.

And then, there’s the issue of trust. Despite intensive interviews and reference checks, a daycare centre or a nanny means entrusting the care of a child to strangers.

So for many working couples, the ideal solution is to have someone who knows the child, can be trusted without reservation and best of all, loves the child unconditionally. That’s grandma and often, her sidekick, grandpa.

Of course, there are considerations before taking on the job.  And it is a job, albeit one that keeps us stimulated, active and engaged. But a grandparent as nanny has to be prepared to give up certain aspects of retirement such as sleeping in or finishing that great book, daytime bridge or going to a spur-of-the-moment afternoon movie.

Health issues are a factor to consider realistically. While a grown child may think his parents have the same energy they had 30 years ago, only you, as the prospective caregiver can honestly assess -and admit–your physical and emotional capabilities. And what may the future bring in terms of health issues?

Martha and David took on the care of their one-year-old grandson, Elliott when his mom returned to work after maternity leave. “We did it happily for six months and then David’s mother had a fall,” says Martha, who has osteoarthritis. “Now, he’s gone most of the day taking care of her needs and I find caring for Elliott on my own really tiring.”

Because no one can foresee unexpected events, it’s good to have a backup plan for childcare, or better still, an opportunity for respite for the fulltime grandparent-caregiver.

“Sydney goes to a playgroup two afternoons a week,” says Rebecca, “and I cherish that downtime to be able to rest or enjoy activities of my own.”

Will you be paid? “I wouldn’t think of it,” scoffs Rebecca. But Martha and David disagree. “While we don’t expect a salary, we have worked out a plan with Elliott’s parents that they cover everyday costs such as special foods and outings.”

As with any job, it’s important to follow expectations, which means respecting the parents’ values and boundaries in terms of discipline, nutrition and learning experiences. While grandparents tend to overindulge grandchildren, it may not work on a daily basis -for the child or the grandparent. But, parents should allow grandparents some latitude too so they don’t feel they are being micro-managed in the job.

Not only have parenting philosophies changed since we were parents, but safety regulations have too. Grandparents need a crash course in current safety practices with everything from crib standards and car seat safety to bike helmets and toy labeling. Take a course offered in the community or go to  Keep a list of emergency numbers, including the poison control centre and figure out a fire drill procedure for your home.

We all know cleaning supplies should be locked up or kept out of a child’s reach, but don’t forget prescription medication that, because we’re seniors, isn’t always packaged in child-proof containers.

With realistic expectations and preparedness, being the caregiver gives a grandparent the opportunity to stay young, stimulated and involved and to mold a grandchild in the perfect image of oneself.