Many grandparents are part-time caregivers for their grandchildren. One issue that usually arises is how to set boundaries. Our mental health columnist Judith Macek weights in.
Assuming the caregiver role for grandchildren can be both rewarding and challenging. It gives you the opportunity to spend quality time with them but also changes relational dynamics a bit. As grandparents, it can be easy to fall into the “spoiler” role when the grandchildren come to visit. Becoming a caregiver implies you are on a regular schedule to look after them as opposed to the occasional babysitting while mom and dad go on a date.
Start by Talking
Keep the communication lines open by discussing your boundaries before beginning. It may feel uncomfortable to address issues that are non-existent but not as uncomfortable if problems arise down the road. Sit down with everyone involved and discuss not only your expectations but also theirs.
One area to talk about is a stipend. Decide if you want to be paid for this position or if you’re volunteering to help the family out financially. If this is a paid position, agree on a wage and a set payday.
Another important aspect to consider is the time frame that will be expected of you. If it is possible, setting days and times might be helpful. This will allow you to know ahead of time when you can schedule your own appointments and errands.
Discussing discipline is a must. It can be helpful to remember children do well in environments where they feel loved and respected, and have well-defined age-appropriate rules. “Time-out” tends to work well, and you can maintain the grandparent role by leaving any further punishments to the parents.
Another topic is food. Come to a decision about who will prepare and provide meals while the children are in your care. If you decide to provide the meals, do you want to be compensated for the expense? This may seem trivial at first, but depending on the length of time they are with you, it can add up.
Transportation is another issue. Will they come to you, will you be expected to go to their home or are you flexible? Also, decide if you’ll be willing to take the children to appointments or other activities.
After working through the details, remember each of us has a unique parenting style; your grandchildren are not your children. If you disagree with something your child is doing as a parent, don’t address it in front of their children or when emotions are running high. Choose a time to discuss issues when you can have a calm, respectful conversation about your concerns.
Judith Macek is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Portage County who works with all ages and diagnoses, specializing in anxiety, depression and grief counseling.