Research has shown that one in three working mums rely on their mum or mother-in-law for childcare when they return to work or further education.
At face value this is a wonderful arrangement that works for both parties – you have piece of mind that the person responsible for your child has a vested interest and granny has lots of precious time with her grandchild. Plus of course, the child benefits from an enriched upbringing.
However, this seemingly perfectly balanced set up can sometimes turn out less harmoniously than planned. Asking granny to sign on the dotted line when you hand over your children may seem a step too far, but according to a survey carried out by Grannynet.co.uk, 78% of grandparents agreed that families should establish some kind of formal childcare arrangement when they are providing the childcare.
Here are some of the grandparents' reactions to the idea of drawing up a 'contract':
Consistency is important - but so is flexibility. There should be a few very basic ground rules, if only to forestall 'playing off' parents against grandparents, but with 'wiggle room' for learning that different people have different attitudes.
We have had a long chat about it today and decided that we are going to impose some basic restrictions that may help us - the care must be in our home (theirs is chaotic and sends us scatty), and if it's for several consecutive days we will have them sleep over or even rent a cottage at the seaside and go off for the duration - gives us at least a shot at consistency. Feel a bit better already!
ABSOLUTELY!!! There should be ground rules established. We didn't and now it's a nightmare. It's caused real problems and tension in the family and how I wish wish, wish that we had written up an agreement in advance.
It is only fair on the child that all the people that are caring for them are on the same page.
So here are some of Grannynet's top tips on how to avoid conflict:
• Few grandparents have the energy to offer full time care for five days a week. They may be keen to offer this, but those with experience say it's physically overwhelming. Of course this depends on family circumstances as sometimes needs must.
• Make sure you have good communication with grandparents – listen out for signs that they might need a break or are finding it hard to say 'no' even when they should, especially for health reasons.
• The issue of whether grandparents should be paid for looking after their grandchildren
leaves people divided. However, this just goes to show how important it is to offer, particularly if the arrangement is for the foreseeable future.
• If your mum or mother-in-law refuses any payment then you could suggest you reimburse her for expenses, such as travel or surprise her with the occasional bunch of flowers as a gesture of appreciation.
• Most grandparents feel more comfortable looking after grandchildren in their own homes. This is because they feel that they are able to function better in their own surroundings. Be sympathetic to this, as it's good for a child to spend time in different environments and get used to being comfortable somewhere other than home.
• It really helps if grandparents have all the equipment they need at their house to save lugging things backwards and forwards. Offer help in the purchasing of these items, either in monetary form or by advising them on where best to buy everything. Second-hand stuff and eBay really comes into their own here.
• Agree on an approach to your children's eating and share with them what they like and dislike. Grandparents love to give treats to their grandchildren, so if you feel strongly that certain things are off limits then tell them.
• A consistent approach to discipline is very important. Grandparents should be given the right to judge discipline in the context of that child's day. Granting them this will make their life far easier, but discuss appropriate punishments and rewards beforehand.
The bottom line is that communication is key. Discussing and even formalising your arrangement on paper can really help bypass any friction that can easily rear it's ugly head (often when you need it the least).
Grannynet provides online support for grandparents. Offering advice, refresher courses for new grandparents on how to care for babies, a shop and a forum to chat to other grandparents, Grannynet is a one-stop-shop for grannies who like to be in the know.
Visit grannynet.co.uk to view Grannynet's Ground Rules, an informal contract that families can download to prompt families to talk over the more contentious issues surrounding childcare.