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Should You Get Paid to Babysit?

Grandparents may be the best sitters for their grandkids. But should they be paid for the help?

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Many parents would agree that their children’s grandpa and grandma represent the best childcare they could imagine. After all, who loves (and spoils!) their children more than the children’s own grandparents?

For some families, the grandparents provide more than occasional babysitting and take over the duties regularly, even full-time. Should grandparents in this role receive money for their time?

That depends.

Nancy Miltsch, a registered nurse and a certified childbirth educator, leads new parent and new grandparent classes for Rochester Regional Health. She said that her classes include this issue. She believes that factors include the amount of time the grandparents spend watching the children.

“There’s a difference between being a grandparent and a provider of care while parents are employed,” Miltsch said. “There’s a fine line between what you do as a grandparent and as a daycare provider.”

She said that some grandparents shape their retirement plans around their grandchildren’s care needs, even retiring earlier or moving so that they can provide daily care.

“For years, this is what some grandparents have been waiting for,” Miltsch said.

Some grandparents on fixed incomes could really benefit from income earned while watching their grandchildren. For some young families, relief from the cost of childcare enables them to build a better future for the children.

Ultimately, “it is a family decision to make whether or not to pay,” Miltsch said. “You need to discuss this.”

A frank, honest discussion can help both parties realize where they stand and their needs. If pay will be involved, they need to agree upon a rate that’s fair for both parents and grandparents.

The conversation should also include how often and for how long the grandparents will provide care, who pays for any expenses incurred during care, where they will watch the children and who will provide transportation. Grandparents may want to split care among themselves and other relatives so that they have more free time.

Families should also talk about how care is provided.

“I am a grandmother,” Miltsch said. “Being a grandparent and a provider are two different things. Taking your grandchildren out, you indulge. But you can’t do that on a daily basis as a provider or you’ll end up with a spoiled brat. It has to be consistent with what the parents are doing.”

Grandparents may also benefit from a class to brush up on their childcare skills. Obviously, their own child survived to start their own family; however, standards of childcare change as more research shows what helps children stay safer, grow better and learn more.

For example, the Safe to Sleep program, formerly known as Back to Sleep, has helped reduce incidences of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by 50 percent since its introduction in 1994 and 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Grandparents who always laid babies on their stomachs for sleep may not understand why sleeping on the back is important.

“The biggest goal of the grandparenting class is not to teach them how to take care of a baby,” Miltsch said. “They have done that, doing what was taught to them but evidence-based research now shows that some things we did weren’t right. Times change. We change as time has passed.”

She said most grandparents feel very accepting of learning the newer ways once they learn the rationale behind it.

Miltsch said that young parents have to demonstrate respect for their parents, just as the grandparents need to follow their adult children’s rules while watching the children.

“A lot of the young couples are so honored that their parents would even want to do this,” Miltsch said. “That’s the biggest compliment they can give each other, ‘I’m entrusting my new baby to you’ and ‘I want to change my lifestyle to spend time with your children.’ It’s a very emotional thing when you see what’s going on between these people.”

She advises grandparents providing regular care to remember to leave once the parents arrive home.

“They need to relax after work and spend time together as a family,” Miltsch said. “The last thing I want when I get home from work is someone there visiting, asking how my day went.”

In addition to some savings and additional peace of mind, grandparent daycare also ensures children receive care if they’re sick. Most daycare centers won’t accept ill children, forcing parents to use their sick time for their children. As a result, Miltsch said many single parents, especially, will go to work sick so that they can hoard their sick time.

Whether pro bono or paid, grandparent care offers a level of care parents can’t replicate otherwise.