By Úna Rice
Minding your grandchildren is the ultimate act of love but are you prepared to put a price on it?
Securing decent and affordable childcare is a major priority for many parents these days – in both two parent and single parent households. Any anxieties about returning to work after maternity leave, or handling tricky or anti-social work hours, can be easily ironed out once there’s solid, reliable and affordable childcare in place. It’s a huge weight off your shoulders.
But while paying for great childcare is an option and a choice for many, there are also parents who wouldn’t dream of using an official form of childcare and would opt for ‘granny’s house’ any time. Granny’s house is full of love and welcome and grandparents just always seem to have nurturing, patience and attention in abundance.
And while some grandparents have open arms and open doors, there are other grandparents for whom childcare can, over time, despite the love and the joy, become a bit too much. Resentments can seep in and build up, usually because both parties haven’t articulated clearly what exactly they need to get out of it, what time frame is involved, and sometimes because as humans we simply have difficulty broaching subjects we feel a bit awkward about because we don’t want the other person to feel offended or hurt. And it’s a pity, because grandparents are such a treasure to have, so it’s only fair for all parties to be true to themselves to get the best out of any arrangement.
The first rule is try not to act from a place of guilt. If your daughter or daughter-in-law is returning to work after maternity leave, there shouldn’t be a presumption that your time will now be filled doing the childcare. This can be a tricky area, because often the math are being worked out to see if it’s financial viable or worth returning to the workplace. This may trigger a response in you that you’ll help out for free. But committing to childcare is a big undertaking and not one to take lightly. Your instinct may be to offer to mind the baby because you genuinely want to help ease the financial burden or because you feel, ‘that’s why I’m here.’ Or you feel it’s what’s expected of you; perhaps hints have been dropped. But before you offer your time, love and commitment, you need to examine how much of your time you’d genuinely be able to give before granny fatigue sets in.
Rule number two involves sitting down and having a heart to heart about what would be expected of all parties. You may have visions of the baby being dropped off and being able to cuddle and coo all day, but your own child may have strong views on how he or she wants the baby looked after. They may want a more structured day for their child for instance, that revolves around routine. When communication breaks down, in-laws can become out-laws as quarrels start about how much sleep or nap time the baby had in the day, or how much chocolate or sweets were given. Resentments can also seep in if you feel you’re taken advantage of. You could be looking at the clock after a long day, wondering when the parents will come. This is why sitting down and having an honest dialogue about what everyone wants is vital.
So what’s worth discussing?
· Talk about the exact work hours. Are there early starts and late evenings? Is it flexible enough to give you time for your activities during the week.
· Find out what happens if you are ill or if the child is ill. Will you be responsible for administering medicine or doing the trips to the doctor? How would you cope if you are feeling slightly under par one day, and would rather stay in bed, but your child or in-law has got to dash off for a vitally important meeting?
· Do you genuinely want to offer full time care, or is it more practical to offer say a day or two a week – meaning you get to spend great time with your grandchild, and to help out, but still have lots of time to yourself also.
· Will you get paid? According to the Revenue Commissioners any income derived from any trade, professional or employment, is taxable in the normal way.
· Will you be rewarded for your time as you are saving a parent lots of money in official childcare costs? Like a gift of a fill of heating oil, or supermarket vouchers to cover the costs of food? Will your basic expenses be covered?
· How long will the arrangement go on for? A baby changes a lot in a year. Soon they’re on their feet exploring their world. Another year and they’re busy little people requiring lots of toddler activities, stimulation and social interaction with other toddlers as they approach pre-school. Will you be expected to do childcare for school terms only, or will it drift into summer holiday time?
· How many times will you sit down together to review how it’s going?
How to know it’s just not working
Sometimes we have the best of intentions but doing the childcare for family members may not work out to one or both parties’ approval. How do you know it’s time to have that chat about putting new arrangements in place?
· You’re being told how to structure the day
· You’ve been criticised for something
· It’s not filling you with joy
· It’s too hard work
· You’re feeling taken advantage of
· It’s negatively affecting your relationship with your own child or son or daughter-in-law