Help Your Mom Help You
Even if your mom has always been there for you, given the rising cost of childcare, daycare tuition, and pretty much everything else related to raising a family, you may be relying on her support more than ever.
According to a recent study by the National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies, many grandparents are helping to defray the cost of their grandchildren’s fulltime childcare by being the childcare providers, either full- or part-time.
It can be a big help. In 36 states, the cost of fulltime daycare is now higher than a year’s tuition at a four-year public college.
Grandparents are also increasingly picking up the tab for everyday items, such as food, furniture, baby gear, clothes, toys, and games. This generosity may be driven by the fact that our parents’ generation is comparatively well off.
The income of 55- to 74-year-olds has risen significantly above the inflation rate, compared to the household income of 25- to 44-year-olds, which has declined, cites a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
The desire to help out could also be innate.
“Parents naturally want to give to their adult kids, even though it can sometimes be uncomfortable for the adult child who may be thinking, ‘I should be dealing with this,’” says Deanna Brann, Ph.D., a clinical psychotherapist and author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law.
Besides the support itself, a major benefit is that more grown-ups, especially if they provide childcare, get to be involved in your children’s lives.
“Children get exposed to more than just their parents and have a chance to see how other people interact and have relationships, which is learned at an unconscious level,” Brann says.
Grandparents also fit a niche that a babysitter doesn’t because they have a vested interest in your child.
Still, as much as you need and value the assistance, family contributions can be a source of conflict and confusion.
“There are strings attached, whether they’re spoken or not,” Brann says.
If your mother-in-law volunteers to pay for your daughter’s birthday party, for example, does Grandma get to call the shots? What about differences in opinion about childrearing? What should you do if Grandma (who generously brought over several bags of groceries) insists that your kids clean their plates—at your house? Gulp!
Here’s help. These guidelines can make your parents’ or in-laws’ involvement in your parenting life a positive experience for everyone.
Set clear boundaries. No matter how grateful you are that your parents or in-laws provide childcare, they still need to follow your parenting rules.
“Let your parents or in-laws know what your guidelines are for your child’s eating, sleeping, and screen time before they start babysitting,” Brann says.
Team up with your spouse to present a united front.
“It’s fair to say, for example, ‘We’d appreciate it if you could read to the kids or play games with them instead of just letting them watch TV,’” Brann says. “Or, ‘Please don’t give Aidan candy.’”
You might even say something like, “When the kids are with you as a grandparent, you can do what you want in your home. But when you’re acting as a caregiver here, this is what we need you to do, and we’re wondering if you’re OK with it,” Brann says.
Or better yet, write your household rules down so your parents don’t forget. Express them nicely, of course, so no one gets offended. Defining your expectations from the onset gives the arrangement a foundation you can refer to if the rules aren’t followed, Brann says. (“Mom, remember the rules we talked about in the beginning?”)
Run the show. If your parents/in-laws volunteer to pay for something, you can still specify what you’d like them to buy and from where.
“Just because someone else is paying for something doesn’t usurp your right as a parent,” Brann says. “It’s not written that whoever pays for something gets to take over.”
But again, as the parent, you need to be clear about what you want.
If your mother-in-law says she’ll pay for your 5-year-old daughter’s bakery birthday cake, for example, you might say: “Thank you so much for offering to pay for Sophie’s birthday cake. The princess cake we have planned costs $30 from our favorite bakery down the street. That may be more than you were planning to spend. If you’d still like to pay for it, that’s great. If not, that’s OK too. We’ll figure something out.
“It can feel awkward to communicate this stuff, but if you don’t, resentment can build that can fracture your relationship,” Brann says. “Your parents or in-laws might start to back off or not follow through with things. Weirdness will start to happen and you won’t know how to react. You might start acting funny if you feel that your parents/in-laws are in charge.”
Have a backup plan. Formulate a plan B in case your parents (or in-laws) don’t follow your parenting rules or you get the feeling they don’t really want to babysit or pay for something even though they’ve agreed to.
Without a plan B, “your parents’ help can feel like extortion,” Brann says, as in: “We have to have them babysit because we can’t afford anything else.” Or, “we have to get the butterfly birthday cake because that’s what Grandma wants.”
Can you cut back somewhere in your budget to pay for, say, at least part-time daycare if you had to? Just knowing you have options can help preserve your relationship if things don’t work out.
“If it comes to that with your childcare arrangement, you might say, for example, ‘We decided we’d rather you be a grandparent than a caregiver because that’s more important to us,’” Brann says.
Payback with appreciation. Whether your parents or in-laws graciously provide childcare or help pay for things your family needs, such as daycare tuition, a new stroller, or a new computer, be sure to reciprocate in nonfinancial ways. Tell them how much you appreciate their support, even if it’s unsolicited.
“I work with women who are mothers-in-law, who say to me, ‘I do this and that, but I don’t even get a than- you,’” Brann says. “Acknowledgement is so important. It needs to be verbal, but you don’t have to gush.”
You might say, for example, “I hope you don’t feel like you have to do this, but we appreciate it.” Other small gestures, such as sending an occasional thank-you note, can mean a lot too.
“If you really want to score points with your mother-in-law, put a photo of her with your kids somewhere in your house,” says Linda Della Donna, 63, a grandmother of Hunter, 2, and Zoey, 1, who babysits for them weekly.
Inviting your parents/in-laws over for dinner occasionally or including them on family outings is also a nice way to give back and to let them know you value them and their contributions.BW