Family Caregivers - The Downside

Filed under: Opinions

An old rocking chair on a porchSure, there are real, quantifiable benefits to having family members take care of your kids, but there are trade-offs involved too. When my son was first born, my sister-in-law's family was living with us and she watched Jared while my wife and I worked. Now, my mother-in-law watches our kids two days a week for us. While I'm very glad that the kids get that cross-generational experience, it's not always easy.

Grandparents and parents do not always agree when it comes to raising kids. My mother-in-law is much more lenient with desserts -- she thinks Jell-o is a side dish -- than I am and so the kids eating a lot more cookies, ice cream, and so on when she takes care of them. She is also far more television-friendly than we are; the days she is here the kids get to watch a lot more TV than I would like.

Sure, you can say we should just tell her to do it our way, but it's not so easy. The fact is, we need her and she needs the respite she gets from letting the kids watch a bit of telly. Were she a paid caregiver, we would certainly expect her to follow our rules exactly, but when it comes down to it, she's not. But that's not the worst part of it anyway.

The real problem with having family members take care of your kids on a regular basis is that you leave yourself with no one for emergencies or special events. A lot of stay-at-home moms and dads we know get to go out sans kids on a regular basis because they can call upon the grandparents to babysit while they go out for the evening. Because we're already taking advantage of my mother-in-law for daytime care, we don't want to ask during the evening as well. So we just don't go out much.

In addition, families whose kids are in daycare can rely on the grandparents to watch the kids when they or their regular caregiver are ill so they don't have to take time off from work. If one of our kids is sick or if my mother-in-law gets sick, I have to take a sick day at work. Luckily, I get sick time, but not everyone does.

If you rely on family for regular childcare, how do you deal with special occasions? Or, like us, do you simply not go out without the kids? What about if the family member gets sick and can't watch the kids? How do you handle that?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.