Even if your parents or inlaws have always been there for you, given the rising cost of child care, you may be relying on their support more than you ever.
A study by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies found that many grandparents are to helping to defray the cost of their grandchildren’s fulltime child care by being the child care providers, either full or part-time.
Reducing Child Care Costs
It’s a big help. Consider: According to Business Broker Network, the average annual cost of child care for an infant and a toddler ranges from $7,981 in Mississippi to $35,782 in Washington DC. In at least 36 states, the cost of fulltime daycare is now higher than a year’s tuition at a four-year public college.
Grandparents are also increasingly picking up the tab for everyday items, such as food, furniture, baby gear, clothes, toys and games. This generosity may be driven by the fact that our parents’ generation is comparatively well off. The income of 55 to 74 year olds has risen significantly above the inflation rate, compared to the household income of 25 to 44 year olds, which has declined, cites a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
The desire to help out could also be innate. “Parents naturally want to give to their adult kids, even though it can sometimes be uncomfortable for the adult child, who may be thinking, ‘I should be dealing with this,’” says Deanna Brann, Ph.D., a clinical psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law.
Besides the support itself, your parents get to be more involved in your children’s lives, especially if they provide child care. “Children get exposed to more than just their parents and a chance to see how other people interact and have relationships, which is learned at an unconscious level,” Brann says.
Grandparents also fit a niche that a babysitter doesn’t because they have a vested interest in your child. Still, as much as you need and value your parents’ or in-law’s assistance for whatever reason, their mega involvement can be a source of conflict and confusion.
“There are strings attached, whether they’re spoken or not,” Brann says. If your mother-in-law volunteers to pay for your daughter’s birthday party, for example,
does Grandma get to call the shots?
What about differences in opinion about childrearing? What should you do if Grandpa (who generously brought over several bags of groceries) insists that your kids clean their plates, at your house? Gulp!
Here’s help. These guidelines can make your parents or in-laws’ involvement in your family life a positive experience for everyone. Here’s how to help your parents or in-laws help you.
Extended Family Management
Set clear boundaries
No matter how grateful you are that your parents or in-laws provide child care, they still need to follow your parenting rules. “Let your parents or in-laws know what your guidelines are for your child’s eating, sleeping, and screen time before they start babysitting,” Dr. Brann says.
Team up with your spouse to present a united front. “It’s fair to say, for example, ‘We’d appreciate it if you could read to the kids or play games with them instead of just letting them watch TV,” Brann says. Or, “Please don’t give Aidan candy.”
You might even say something like, ‘When the kids are with you as a grandparent, you can do what you want in your home. But when you’re acting as a caregiver here, this is what we need you to do and we’re wondering if you’re okay with it?’” Brann says. Or better yet, write your household rules down so your parents don’t forget.
Express them nicely, of course, so no one gets offended. Defining your expectations from the onset gives the arrangement a foundationyou can refer to if the rules aren’t followed, Brann says. (“Um…remember those rules we talked about in the beginning?”)
You’re still the parent
If your parents/in-laws volunteer to pay for something, you can still specify what you’d like them to buy and from where. “Just because someone else is paying for something doesn’t usurp your right as a parent,” Brann says. “It’s not written that whoever pays for something gets to take over.”
But again, as the parent, be clear about what you want. If your mother-in-law says she’ll pay for your daughter’s bakery birthday cupcakes, for example, you might say, “Thank you so much for offering. The ballerina cupcakes we have planned costs $50 from our favorite bakery down the street. That may be more than you were planning to spend. If you’d still like to pay for it, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too. We’ll figure something out.”
“It can feel awkward to communicate this stuff, but if you don’t, resentment can build that can fracture your relationship,” Brann says. “Your parents or in-laws might start to back off or not follow through with things. Weirdness will start to happen and you won’t know how to react,” Brann says. You might start acting funny if you feel that your parents/in-laws are running the show.
Have a back-up plan
Formulate a plan B in case your parents (or in-laws) don’t follow your parenting rules or you get the feeling they don’t really want to babysit or pay for something even though they’ve agreed to.
Without a plan B, “your parents’ help can feel like extortion,” Brann says, as in: We have to have them babysit because we can’t afford anything else.
Can you cut back somewhere in your budget to pay for, say—at least part-time daycare if you had to? Just knowing you have options can help preserve your relationship if things don’t work out. “If it comes to that with your child care arrangement, you might say, for example, ‘We decided we’d rather you be a grandparent than a caregiver because that’s more important to us,’” Dr. Brann says.
Payback with appreciation
Whether your parents or in-laws graciously provide child care or help pay for things your family needs, such as daycare tuition, a new stroller or a new laptop computer, be sure to reciprocate in nonfinancial ways.
Tell them how much you appreciate their support, even if it’s unsolicited. “I work with women who are mothers-in-law, who say to me, ‘I do this and that but I don’t even get a thank you,’” Dr. Brann says. “Acknowledgement is so important. It needs to be verbal, but you don’t have to gush.”
You might say, for example, “I hope you don’t feel like you have to do this, but we appreciate it.”
Other small gestures, such as sending an occasional thank you note can mean a lot too.
“If you really want to score points with your parents or your in-laws, put a photo of them somewhere in your house,” says Linda Della Donna, 63, a grandmother of Hunter, 2, and Zoey, 1, who babysits for them weekly.
Inviting your parent or in-laws over for dinner occasionally or including them on family outings is also a nice way to give back and to let them know you value them and their contributions.