Mmankhutau Mothapo, mom to Madisha (3), was thrilled and relieved when her mom volunteered to look after her son when she returned to work after maternity leave. “This meant I didn’t need to search for a caregiver and I would be spared having to deal with any ‘nanny drama’ I had heard so much about.
“My mom looked after my son until he went to crèche at the age of two. As much as the arrangement worked for us, we had our disagreements about feeding routines and it wasn’t easy to be upfront and tell her how and what I wanted my son to be fed,” she says.
Mmankhutau adds that it’s easy to give a nanny instructions, but it’s a little harder when it’s your mom. “You can’t order your mom around – it’s disrespectful and she will tell you that she raised three kids and they all turned out well.”
5 tips to make it work
1. Be upfront
Clinical psychologist and family mediator Wendela Leisewitz says it’s often complicated when grandparents take on the role of a main caregiver. “Unlike a nanny, grandparents are not service providers in the traditional or business-contract sense. They usually assist because of love for their children and grandchildren. Even if they are being paid, this arrangement can be tricky,” she says.
There is no need to treat granny like an employee, but you do have to be upfront about the details. “It’s very important to emphasise whether you want her to help out in emergencies or want her to commit as a full-time nanny,” says Wendela. She also suggests addressing any issue early on to avoid resentment, anger or further misunderstandings. “It’s always a good idea to have regular casual chats about how things are going. Also, give granny a chance to voice her concerns regarding this arrangement. As much as you want her to listen to you, you should also listen to her,” adds Wendela.
2. Respect each other
“Moms need to realise that the grandparent and child will need to find their own routine and way of doing things, and should give them a chance to do so without micromanaging the relationship. You also need to respect each other’s time and privacy,” says Wendela.
Mmankhutau says she never told her mother what to do. “If she did something I didn’t like, I suggested a better way to do it the next time – in a nice way. Otherwise, I let her do her thing.”
3. Deal with your jealousy issues
It’s natural to feel jealous of the bond your child will form with her granny, but don’t take it personally and don’t let it come between you and your mother or mother-in-law. Be glad that your child has a strong relationship with people other than her parents and embrace the fact that this relationship means that granny is doing a great job caring for your child.
4. Express appreciation
Many grandparents are happy to help out, but they wouldn’t mind a little appreciation for their efforts. Parents may also want to offer compensation for the time grandparents spend as caregivers. “Although granny may not accept money, you should still acknowledge the work she is doing and the sacrifices she is making for your child to receive the best possible care. Consider other ways of compensating her – like sending her on a trip or buying her things she really loves,” says Wendela.
“My mother refused to be paid, but I would deposit money into her account randomly and she appreciated that. My partner and I would buy her something nice occasionally. She saved us a lot of money and did an amazing job looking after our son until he went to crèche,” says Mmankhutau.
5. When to call it quits
If you’re finding that your arrangement is becoming a constant power struggle and it’s starting to affect your relationship with your mom or in-laws, it may be time to move on. You can’t fire your mom or mother-in-law, but you can end the arrangement in a sensitive way. “Explain to her that you would rather have her as a granny than a nanny and that you appreciate her efforts. Emphasise that she is still welcome to babysit on weekends and make it clear that the relationship will continue,” adds Wendela.
If you’re considering using a grandparent or family member as a caregiver, here are some of the pros and cons to help you make the best decision for you and your baby.
- You save money: Granny sees the time as an additional chance to bond with her grandchild and will probably reject any payment. Don’t take advantage of this, and try to find ways to compensate her.
- Built-in trust: You trust your mom because she raised you, so you know she will do her best to take care of your child.
- Family bonding: One of the greatest benefits of granny taking care of your child is that they will already have a natural bond.
- Lack of control: Granny may feel that she has more experience in raising children than you do. This will make it difficult for you to set the rules.
- Differences in parenting beliefs: Different generations may have different styles or ideas regarding discipline, nutrition, playtime and other aspects of parenting.
- Dealing with conflict: If you are unhappy, you can dismiss a nanny, but you can’t just fire a family member.
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.