Q. We have a 3-year-old daughter and a 6-week-old son. I need to go back to work to help with our bills and to save up for a house of our own. We currently live in an apartment that doesn’t offer much room for children to play. I am thinking of asking my mother to babysit the children while I work. This would allow my husband and me to work the same hours. Another option is for us to work different hours and take turns caring for the children. We could also put the kids in a child care center, but that would take away our ability to save money. What do you think of grandparents babysitting while the parents work? What do we need to know and consider?
A. Some people—including grandparents—are great babysitters, and some are not. You know your mother and can guess what kind of care she will provide. Ask yourself:
- Will it be minimal care, or will she be interested in helping your children developmentally?
- Will she help them with learning things appropriate to their ages?
- Will she read to them or play with them?
- Will the time with her be a happy time, or will it be somewhat unhappy for all concerned?
- Will she feel you have asked too much of her, or will she be thankful for time with her grandchildren?
If your mother resents being put into the role of babysitter, she may not be the best caregiver. To overcome this resentment, you may want to compensate her in some way. Praise helps, but she may appreciate you doing some tasks for her or taking her out to eat or engaging in several other ways to show your thanks. If your mother has periods of depression, keep in mind that seriously depressed people are not the best babysitters for long periods of time. Their negativity shows through, and their energy level is seldom up to the children’s needs.
If you find that your mother is interested in minimal care, there are ways to compensate for this. Knowing that your children need more than just being kept dry and fed, perhaps you could find a mother’s day out program or a day care with a focus on developmental experiences where your 3-year-old could spend a couple of half-days a week socializing with other children and engaging in developmental tasks and play. Another option is for you to find activities appropriate for 3-year-olds and engage in these with your daughter on your days off or at the end of your workdays. You can discuss these activities with your mother. Be sure to check the calendar in Austin Family magazine for activities for small children. I love these activities myself and hope your family will enjoy them, too.
Even your baby needs stimulation of touch and sound and texture. You can spend extra time talking to your baby and providing baby toys that help him developmentally. Most libraries and book stores offer free storytimes, which can provide additional enrichment.
Some adults today have wonderful memories of grandparents caring for them. Hopefully, your children will have similar memories when they grow up.
Betty Richardson, Ph.D., R.N.C., L.P.C., L.M.F.T., is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
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