Sometimes it's hard to lay down the law with your own parent. But speaking up at the beginning of a babysitting session or a regular child care arrangement will ensure its success.
Make sure the grandparents know when you want your children to eat and sleep and your rules about television, junk food, outings and appropriate discipline. After once coming home to a child with an unexpected haircut, I always say "no haircuts or tattoos" before I leave kids in the care of grandparent babysitters.
You might even want to write down your expectations. Try to limit your rules to the things that your feel most strongly about or that have to do with safety. Too many guidelines will be hard for caregivers to remember and may make them feel that you don't trust their judgment.
Micromanaging Grandparent Babysitters
Now that you've agreed on the rules, let go. Have faith that your parents or parents-in-law will respect the boundaries you've set and live up to your expectations.
If you come home and the kids' clothes are a mess or toys were put away in the wrong places, think twice before speaking up. Just because the grandparents cared for your children differently than you would have doesn't mean they're wrong.
Certainly, if you nitpick the way that they babysit, you're likely to build up resentments and make it less enjoyable for them to watch your children. The next thing you know, you'll have an angry grandparent on your hands and a scramble to find new child care.
Taking Advantage of Grandparent Babysitters
There's nothing as comforting as leaving your children with the people who love them as desperately as you do. So you want to make sure grandparent babysitters are happy and will return for repeat sessions.
If you are fortunate enough to have a grandparent nearby who wants to regularly watch your children, discuss the terms for babysitting ahead of time. Address questions like:
Will you pay the grandparent for child care?
How much notice should you each give in the event of a cancellation?
What if the child or grandparent gets sick?
Who organizes activities and pays for classes or outings?
If grandparents are providing daily child care, paying them puts the relationship on a more professional level and stresses that it's a serious commitment. That's what you want if you're working while grandparents are babysitting. Last-minute cancellations could jeopardize your career -- and there are other ways to save money.
Remember to discuss the financial implications of paying grandparents for babysitting, such as having to pay the nanny tax. It may make more sense for you to pay for groceries, gas, outings or vacations than to fork over cash.
Working Out Your Relationship Through the Kids
Our parents know how to push our buttons -- they installed them. And sometimes we can get under their skin too.
But the last thing you want is to put your children in the middle of a decades-old power struggle with your father. When you interact with the grandparents as babysitters, treat them just as you would treat any responsible adult entrusted with the care of your children.
That means no subtle insults or digs. No references to past arguments. Basically, avoid any sentence that begins, "You always..." or "You never..." or "I hate it when you...".
If you have an especially difficult relationship with a parent (or parent-in-law) you might want to reconsider using that person as a caregiver. It may simply be too complicated.
Leaving Them in the Lurch
Your parents and parents-in-law may know your children very well. But kids change quickly, and it can be hard to keep up if you don't live with them.
Before you leave children with grandparents, make sure to update them on anything going on that may affect your child's mood or health. This includes things such as:
Trouble sleeping or signs of an oncoming cold
Having skipped a meal or snack -- grandparents may not make the connection between a cranky child and a hungry one
Recently developed fears, such as of dogs, loud noises or certain stories
The onset of separation anxiety
An attachment to a blanket or stuffed animal, especially if needed for sleep
Trouble in school or arguments with siblings or friends that may be bothering the child
Of course, make sure to leave enough clean clothes, diapers, any needed medicines and emergency contact information. Think of it this way: you don't want your mother rummaging through your closets in search of an item. Who knows what she might find!