When I returned to work after maternity leave with both of my small children, my husband’s parents came to stay with my family for several months each time to provide child care. They helped us immensely, although we did hit a few rough patches here and there that made me question this arrangement; for example, when my father-in-law initially refused to change a single diaper (he eventually relented), or when my mother-in-law, a life-long vegetarian, balked at feeding my children eggs or meat (still a no-go). I was interested to learn about the experiences of other parents who rely on family for child care, so I asked a few friends and acquaintances to share their stories; here are some pros and cons that emerged from this informal study.
Pro: The cost factor.
All of the parents I surveyed agreed that utilizing family help saves them a significant amount of money. As one mom shared when I asked her why she chose family care over other options, she simply replied, “It was offered, and it was free!” My own in-laws saved us a small fortune in daycare expenses those months that they were here, so I could understand the appeal. Free child care is, in many cases, an offer you can’t refuse.
Pro: The relationship.
All of the parents, myself included, appreciate the close relationships that develop when children spend time with their grandparents (or other family members). With my in-laws living far away most of the time, I’m glad that they’ve had the opportunity to bond with their grandchildren during these formative years.
Con: The age factor.
Most of the parents I spoke with receive child care from their parent/in-laws or other older, retired members of their family. With age comes health and mobility concerns, and some of the parents mentioned feeling anxious about the toll that caring for young children takes on their parents’ health. My in-laws do a great job minding my children, but by the end of the day, they’re exhausted from chasing around an energetic toddler. Diaper changes are a two-person operation, and only one of them can walk up or down the stairs while also carrying a child. I sometimes (guiltily) wonder if it would be a good idea to have younger, more energetic caretakers—at least some of the time.
Con: The child care activities (or lack thereof).
A few of the parents I spoke with expressed some disappointment with the limited range of activities their children do with their relatives. As one mother wryly mentioned, “My mom watches my son because she wants to help us out, but she has her own things to do during the day. He watches TV and plays with his toys while she cleans the house and cooks. A trip to the grocery store is a big adventure.” Other parents mentioned wishing that their children had more interaction with other kids on a regular basis.
Con: The relationship.
Even the moms and dads with close, loving relationships with their parents (or other caretakers) admitted to the occasional spat or rift that caused some tension or frustration. One mom griped that her sister-in-law had trimmed her daughter’s hair without her permission (her first haircut!), while another complained that her parents plied her son with juice and candy every day. “What can I do?” she asked with a laugh. “It’s not a big enough problem to change our arrangements…but it’s infuriating!”
These parents’ stories made me realize one important thing: that every form of child care has an upside and a downside. What are the perks and pitfalls of your own child care arrangements? Tell us in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you.
Want to see how hosting an au pair compares with other forms of child care? Check out our child care comparison chart.