The Family Project: Grandparents and babysitting
Q. My parents have been babysitting my children since they were born, but now my parents are getting older and are not as physically able or alert as they used to be. I am not comfortable having them watch the children anymore. How do I tell them without hurting their feelings?
If the goal is not to hurt the feelings of the grandparent, then panelist Denise Continenza said there are different ways to approach the subject. She suggested framing it as “a change in the care-giving game plan,” that is, explaining that you are enrolling the children in day school, or they will be going into after-school programs.
“Primarily, what you are looking at is meeting the children’s needs,” panelist Mike Daniels said. “What are the children’s needs now? What do they need in terms of socialization, school and activities? That changes the dynamic of the question. It’s not about an ongoing caregiver situation, but about making sure that everyone in the family is on the same page in dealing with the children’s needs. It might actually be a burden lifted from the grandparents.” In that regard, Daniels added, there may be no need to have the potentially embarrassing conversation.
Expanding on that approach, panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo said the younger parents might explain that they are taking alternative measures just in case the grandparents don’t always feel well some days or may not want to be available every day. It may also be based on the observation that the children are becoming more active, and need more interaction with other children outside the home. Whatever the reason, “Make them part of the planning process,” she encouraged.
“It comes down to having a conversation with her parents about the children’s needs,” Daniels said. “It’s about talking about activities and the caregiver schedule, and when and where the grandparents can spend time with their grandchildren.” The panelists agreed that it was important to keep the grandparents connected to and engaged with the children to make sure that they are part of the caregiver plan, and to communicate that to them. “Tell them we are going to need you to help us,” panelist Pam Wallace said.
Daniels said the grandparents also should be told, “We want you to enjoy your grandchildren, not just watch them.” He said time spent could be shifted to a Sunday dinner that everyone attends, or some other planned family activity. It could also be expressed as “We’re taking away some of the responsibility and demands on you, but not the time you spend with the grandchildren,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said. Continenza said that part of the caregiving plan also could include arranging for the grandparents to come and watch the children while the mother was at home, but busy doing other chores.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Joanne Nigito-Raftas, Registered Play Therapist; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS; and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor.
Have a question? Email: projectchildlv.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.