Grandparents Providing Childcare

grandfather and babyI have noticed an unexpected trend in my friends/peers who have had their first child.  I guess I assumed that new parents would, after their maternity/paternity leave ended, either both return to work and put their child in daycare or one parent would stay home to care for the infant.  Instead, I would say that most of the first-time parents that I have observed (an admittedly small number) have their parents provide childcare after both of them return to work.  I have seen local grandparents substitute for daycare, but most of the time at least one set of long-distance grandparents moves in with the new family for several months to care for the baby.  I’m not sure if this is for financial reasons, quality of care reasons, or just because the grandparents want to be involved.


I guess it just struck me as a bit surprising because I associate having family provide childcare as (statistically) a lower-class arrangement (for kids, at least), which I learned about via Kyle’s Economics of Work and Family class from college.  I don’t think of any of the people I’ve seen have kids as “lower class,” though as some of them were grad students maybe their income isn’t quite in line with being middle class, either.


I don’t know if Kyle and I would want or be able to have our parents come take care of our first kid.  First of all, we each have one working parent and one retired parent, so most likely neither couple would be able to stay with us for an extended period.  Second, I don’t know if adding our parents to an already crazy-new and stressful situation would help more or hurt more.  I learned when I moved back in with my parents after college that we get along much better when we don’t live together, and I don’t want to be walking on eggshells feeling like we have guests for months on end.


But maybe I’m being overly pessimistic and having parents around to help you navigate the life-changing and uncharted territory of parenthood is incredibly beneficial.  And I’m sure the larger adult-to-infant ratio of in-home grandparent-caretaking must be better than what daycare can provide.  Plus, daycare is super expensive and there are probably a variety of financial exchanges that could be worked out with grandparents.


Did you parents care for your newborn and if so did you compensate them in any way?  What are the pros and cons in your view of this kind of arrangement?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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18 Responses to "Grandparents Providing Childcare"

  1. Grandparents watching kids is a lower class arrangement? My grandparents watched all of us growing up, and I always thought it was a “it takes a village” type of arrangement.

    We’re not making explicit plans for kids yet, but Mr. PoP’s parents are planning to move down here full time in the next few years, and have made it pretty clear that if there are grandkids they would be quite happy to be very involved.
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    1. Emily says:

      That’s nice that they are coming to you! I have no expectation of either of our sets of parents ever moving.

  2. Emily too says:

    Wow, I have almost never heard of grandparents moving long distance to help with childcare! (The rare exception has been with couples where one partner is from another country, so if the grandparents are visiting at all it makes sense for them to stay for a while, but even then it’s usually just the grandmother.) In most cases I know of where grandparents provide significant childcare, the grandparents are local, and there are serious barriers to doing it long distance. I mean, my parents are both still working, live multiple states away, and have two other adults and three pets in the house – no WAY could they move for a few months, or permanently.

    In more general terms, the anthropologist Sherry Ortner has written that one distinction between working and middle class families in the US is that working class families tend to help their children with donations of time and effort, like childcare or hands-on work training [e.g. if your family owns a small business or is in a union], while middle and upper class families tend to help their children financially, like paying for college and weddings. (Obviously most families do their best for their kids and often combine these strategies, but this is more of a general trend. Also, Ortner uses this observation to argue that class distinctions in the US are more “cultural” and based on family values and work experiences than on particular income levels.) Anyway, this matches my experiences and observations, so thought I’d share. Middle class jobs tend to be more mobile these days, so I think that would discourage hands-on help, which is hard to give if you don’t live in the same town.

    1. Emily says:

      Yep, I have observed (again, small numbers) both grandparents moving to become local once a grandchild is on the scene and one or both coming into town for several months after the birth/leave to help out. I don’t really picture any of our parents being able or willing to do that! Maaaaaybe my mom, but she’s in the middle of launching a second career so I doubt she’d be able to take an extended leave. Plus, like you said, there are other children and pets to be taken care of (in the case of my parents)!

      I think what you said regarding how different “classes” of families tend to provide help makes sense. It’s rather like the general value of time vs. money debate in personal finance.

  3. I’m hispanic, and it’s very common for the grandparents to raise the grandkids. My grandma raised me for the first six years of my life. My parents both had to work to make a living.
    When we moved away that changed, but if we had stayed I would had been continued to be raised by my grandmother.
    Not sure if we are having kids, but when we do my mom has said she would consider taking care of the kids because she doesn’t like daycares. She’s worked at daycares before and feels like the environment is not clean or conducive for a child.
    It something we will probably do too. Why? Because more than likely by the time we have kids my mom will be in her late fifties, early sixties, and since she doesn’t have a retirement plan, I will have to take care of her.
    Granted I wouldn’t want her to live with me. My parents would probably move nearby.

    1. Emily says:

      It’s good you’ve already talked about those family expectations – we haven’t had many of those types of conversations with our parents. Retired grandparents taking care of grandkids in exchange for support from their kids makes a lot of sense to me. I wonder how those traditional arrangements are changing with increases in life expectancy and generation time – are your grandparents still alive and who cares for them?

  4. This is a very interesting arrangement, but one that is quite common for our generation. I know my mom would probably LOVE to watch a grandchild, but we don’t live within proximity for that to happen.
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    1. Emily says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one seeing this crop up. I have no idea if our parents would even want to be full-time child-carers – probably not!

  5. I think, in the right setting, it could be a very beneficial situation for all involved. Though, finding that right setting and balance can be tricky as anything with family can tend to be. We have some good friends who have one of the grandparents provide care several days a week and it works out great for them and I would not consider them lower class. I think this arrangement would’ve been much more common going back, but now that a lot of families tend to be physically spread out it does not happen as much.
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    1. Emily says:

      With dual-income households in every generation now, there aren’t as many stay-at-home grandparents available! The people who I have observed do this I think have those unique family situations where it can work well – I’ve just been surprised that it’s so many of the people I know who have reproduced.

  6. Our parents were and are still working themselves and can’t take off extended time for childcare. Though this summer my mom stayed with us so she could be there for the birth and to take care of DC1 while we were in the hospital (and she was there for DC1’s birth because he came over Christmas). Coincidentally, DH’s parents were visiting at that time as well (they had hoped to be there after the birth, but DC2 was late).

    But no, we hire college students and then use daycare.
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    1. Emily says:

      College students – that’s a good idea! Parents coming into town for a few days or weeks right around births would be very helpful, I’m just not so sure about the long-term stays!

  7. I know my in-laws usually watch my brother-in-law’s children on occasions where both he and his girlfriend have work at the same time. The only time John and Nic won’t do it is when Lowell and Ash both get stuck with an overnight shift, and then they are scrambling.

    Growing up, my mother’s job was providing child care, so she was never really in need of a babysitter herself. But I know from stories and memories, that everybody in my family watched everybody else at one time or another. It takes a village to raise a child, but luckily, my family is the size of a village!
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    1. Emily says:

      There’s a difference between occasional babysitting and full-time childcare, though. I guess when you have work at random hours it becomes difficult to tell the difference! My husband was watched after school by a variety of relatives over the years, too, but I’m not sure what they did in his babyhood after his mother’s year-long leave.

  8. It’s very common in my culture for grandparents to take care of grandchildren – in fact I was brought up by my grandparents for several years while my parents moved to work and study in aonther country. But if my husband and I were to have a kid, I don’t think I would expect my mom to take care of my kid… she’d probably still be working!
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    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like a more and more common story.

  9. reneeg says:

    I have a ton of friends living by this arrangement, and it all seems to be working out fairly well. J and I see a lot of value in cultural traditions where the generations live together and care for one another, and we’re hoping to one day have a MIL suite or nearby apartment if our parents need it. (Or if we need them!)

    That said, I feel a lot more comfortable hiring a nanny and discussing with her how I’d like their diet to look (no crackers or fruit snacks!!), how to handle questions of faith, etc…. Things that I’d feel uncomfortable instructing my parents or in-laws to do.

    1. Emily says:

      Good point about being able to instruct an employee but not as easily a family member! Choosing something different for your kids than your parents chose for you – and putting it in their faces by asking them to change – could potentially be very insulting!

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