Relative care: Setting ground rules

Relative care: Setting ground rules

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Setting up clear lines of communication from the start helps any childcare relationship go more smoothly. And this is especially important when your caregiver is also a family member.

Make sure you set up a system for exchanging questions, comments, and concerns. After all, if you trust your relative enough to have her care for your child, she probably has helpful ideas and suggestions to contribute.

She's also providing you with a valuable service, possibly at the expense of other areas of her life.

"We deliberately did not ask my mom to watch the baby full-time because we respect her lifestyle," says our site member Jean Santiago. "She's a widow and loves to travel and is very busy in the community. We knew asking her to watch our son would really cut down on her freedom."

But if your mom, dad, or another family member is willing to devote some time to your baby's well-being, recognize and appreciate their generosity. It may help to write down your agreement. Discuss hours, time off, and anything else that comes to mind. (Nothing is too small or unimportant.)

You might feel uncomfortable having a family member sign a contract, but coming up with an informal written agreement could make things clearer for both of you. Be sure to talk about:

Childcare philosophies

If you're comfortable having your relative care for your little one, chances are the two of you already share similar views on childrearing. "Overall, I admire how my daughter is raising her children," says Susan Klee, who has watched her granddaughter Michela once a week for four years. "I go along with whatever she wants. And if I disagree, I just don't say anything. I do things the way she wants them done.”

Even if your relative is similarly accommodating, it's important to be clear about how you'd prefer certain issues handled, including:

Discipline. Describe a few scenarios to your relative so she understands your approach. For example, tell her that you deal with temper tantrums by having a time-out, or that you handle toilet training accidents by reminding your child to come to you the next time she has to go.

Let her know that you don't hit or spank your child. (This can be a touchy issue that may be particularly difficult to discuss with a family member.) Be open to her ideas, but make your preferences clear.

Food. Discuss how, when, and what you want your child to eat. If your baby's an infant, for instance, make it clear that you don't want to feed her solids until she's at least a certain age. If you have a toddler, make a list of acceptable snacks and meals.

Sleep. When does your baby nap? For how long? Should your toddler still be catching a few winks every afternoon? Bring your relative up to speed on your child's sleep habits and make sure your child has a quiet, safe, clean place for daytime naps.

Crying. Do you let your baby cry it out before she goes to sleep, or do you go to her right away? How long should your relative let your child cry before going in to her room? Many people have strong opinions on this controversial subject, so handle it tactfully.

Playtime. Give your relative a list of acceptable toys and activities. Include guidelines for screen time. If your relative is caring for your child at her house, you may want to provide the toys, books, and games you want your child to play with.

If your relative disagrees with your methods, choose your battles carefully. You have to decide what issues are the most important to you – starting toilet training when your child is ready, for example, or feeding the baby on demand – and take a stand on those. Navigate other issues more gradually.

"We had to make clear our expectations on nap time," says Lisa Mihaly, Susan Klee's daughter. "You have to pick your issues. My mom takes Michela to the bakery more often than I would, for example, but that's okay. She needs someone in her life to buy her the occasional chocolate chip cookie."

It may also help to discuss problems and concerns from your child's viewpoint: Instead of saying "I don't like what you're doing," try, "Johnny is so active, I think he needs to play outside more often."

Of course, different strategies work for different families. "When my father-in-law was watching Kayla it was a very precarious situation," says J.J. Craft, a our site member.

"He had his ideas on how things should be done, and we had ours. We basically told him that he could watch her only if he followed the guidelines we set for him. If he couldn't, she'd go to daycare. He didn't really like that idea, so he followed the rules fairly well."

Checking in

To make your caregiver-parent relationship work, decide ahead of time how you'll check in with each other or bring up any questions and concerns. You may want to have a quick, casual chat at the end of each day or schedule a more formal weekly or monthly meeting. Remember, the relationship is a two-way street: Both of you need the opportunity to get worries and ideas out in the open.

A backup plan

Talk about what you'll do if your relative is sick or unavailable due to an emergency. Come up with an alternative childcare plan together.

Your relative may know someone else who can care for your child in a pinch, but finding that person is not her responsibility. If she does suggest someone, make sure that person is qualified and is someone you feel comfortable leaving in charge of your child. And if your relative has a class or standing appointment and wants to leave your child with another person, like a neighbor, she needs to clear the arrangement with you first.


If your baby is being cared for in a relative's home, keep in mind that it may not be babyproofed the way yours is.

Remind your family member to keep all medicine, cleaning supplies, and breakables out of reach. Supply necessary outlet covers or cabinet latches to make the house safe for your baby. If your relative is allowed take your child on outings in the car, provide a safe car seat for her to use.

Visitors and outings

Will your relative have visitors during the day? From the outset, establish what is and isn't okay when it comes to other people interacting with your baby.

Ask your caregiver to check with you first before taking your child on special outings and excursions, such as trips to the zoo or museum. Let her know where she can take your child regularly for example, you could tell her that you’d like a visit to the playground to be part of her daily routine.

Again, remember that you are your relative's employer, but you're also family, so try not to be a difficult boss. Keep in mind that having a relative care for your child can be a great bonding experience for everyone.

"Taking care of this baby together has deepened my relationship with my daughter,” says Klee.

Her daughter Lisa couldn't agree more. "My daughter and my mother have a wonderful relationship," she says. "You can't buy that kind of childcare – it's priceless."

Learn more:

Watch the video: The Baffling Xerxes Mystery Scholars Still Try Their Utmost to Solve Once and For All (July 2022).


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