After the birth of our first grandchild, my daughter and son-in-law asked us to consider caring for the baby one day a week. They thought their request would burden us, but we laughed at the thought. We were thrilled!
Five years and another grandchild later, we're still at it.
If you're given the opportunity to participate in your grandchildren's lives in this way, planning ahead will make it a joyful and meaningful experience for all three generations.
Note: Some grandparents are raising their grandchildren because the parents are unable. God bless you for stepping in. Please note that the following tips are designed for occasional caregiving, not for grandparents who are primary caregivers.
This is your chance to create sweet memories
I can still smell the sweet buttery aroma that followed my grandmother when she arrived at Christmastime with a hat box of homemade cookies. I remember my excitement as I opened her handmade Barbie doll outfits.
I can feel my grandfather's gentle hands guiding mine as we sanded smooth the homemade wooden blocks. And the sight of my grandmother's fingers tickling the ivories along with her reminders to "practice, practice, practice!" until I could play a piece accurately and with emotion.
I recall my annoyance as my grandfather stopped to talk with yet another neighbor, and then the admiration I felt realizing he was so beloved by his friends.
When I was disobedient or rebellious, each grandparent, in their own way, responded with a message of grace followed by the truth that my attitude and behavior needed to change. Every meal with them began with prayer, every week started with Sunday school and every question was referred to Scripture.
Creativity. Patience. Discipline. Commitment. Care for others. Faith in God. These are the lessons I learned from my grandparents. And they're the lessons I want to share with my own grandchildren.
Five things to consider when you're caring for grandkids
- There's a new sheriff in town.
It's easy to slip back into your previous parenting role and want to direct decisions for your adult children and their offspring. But your role is different now. You've raised your kids. Ideally, you've modeled good parenting skills. You've hopefully taught them to make good decisions. You've helped them leave your family and cleave to a spouse. Now it's their turn.
Think of it like this: Now dad and mom are the lead vocalists in the band, and grandpa and grandma are the back-up singers. As such, you'll want to look to dad and mom for preferences when it comes to household rules and chores, daily routines, methods of discipline and so on.
That's not to say you can't have healthy discussions or disagreements about child care. But ultimately, the decision belongs to the now-parent you've raised.
- Discuss the day-to-day.
Talk beforehand about the nuts and bolts of child care so you learn dad and mom's preferences. Some discussion points might include:
- Daily routines
- Reward systems for good behavior
- Discipline for poor behavior
- Preferred foods and drinks for meal and snack times
- Acceptable toys and play activities
- Acceptable boundaries for the house and yard or play area
- Rules for driving and car safety
- Emergency contact numbers and procedures
- Assign roles.
What role are your adult kids asking you to fill? Do they want you to be surrogate parents in their absence and make decisions based on their stated desires? Or, do they want you to be adult friends to their kids and defer discipline until they return?
- Be clear with the children.
In age-appropriate language, communicate the agreement with the kids. That way you could avoid a misfortunate experience I recall from my childhood when my brother took advantage of my grandparents' supervision by violating every household rule.
- Expect the unexpected.
You likely remember this mantra from raising your own kids. In fact, adaptability is one of the 7 Traits of Effective Parenting. Although it's impossible to plan for every scenario, it's important to anticipate challenges. I like to separate them into three categories:
Mild challenges – small interruptions, such as:
- Home-related mishaps (i.e., a water leak)
- Unexpected changes in the school schedule
- For a mild medical issue, such as a skinned knee provide general guidelines for managing bumps and bruises
Ask parents how they'd like you to handle these types of challenges and request contact information for their service providers or trusted friends that may be able to help problem solve.
Moderate challenges – situations that involve other kids and parents, such as:
- Last-minute invitations to events
- Arguments or fights that occur between a grandchild and his or her friends
- Phone calls from other parents accusing a grandchild of something, or situations that might require a slight change to certain household rules but that are beneficial for the child in the long run
Discuss possible scenarios and learn how the parents would handle them. Ask parents in which circumstances they would want to be notified.
Significant challenges/crises – unexpected events likely to harm grandchildren, physically or emotionally, such as:
- An accident/illness that involves a trip to the doctor
- A tragedy at school
- A major discipline issue
- A health crisis suffered by the caregiving grandparent
If at all possible, contact parents during crises. However, it's also a good idea for parents to provide written consent for grandparents to make care decisions in their absence. In some states or countries, this is a document that can be written and notarized in order to be accepted at a medical facility. In other locations, a parent may need to obtain the document from an attorney.
Clearly, participating in caring for grandkids is a gift and a privilege. With careful planning, it represents an unprecedented opportunity to make a lasting, positive impression in their lives.