Granny as Nanny

Lay Ground Rules

At a day care, you're expected to bring the wipes and pick up your child promptly. If you hire a sitter, you'll hash out the requirements of her job. (Child care only? Light housecleaning? Overtime pay?) But with your parents, you can skip all that; after all, you're family. Problem is, it's tempting to take advantage of a good thing. Picture this: You come home late just this once, knowing your folks will feed the baby. Meanwhile, Grandma is seething over missing her book club. And no one says anything, so it happens again and she grows resentful.

How can you avoid awkward situations like this? No need to treat your mother like an employee, but you do have to be forthright, says Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, an online resource for behavior and family issues. "Hold meetings to talk about how the baby is doing and what your plans are for the upcoming week." That way, if there's an issue Grandma needs to discuss (you keep forgetting to restock the diapers) or something that's bugging you (your mom hasn't been sticking to the nap schedule), you can bring it up rather than let it fester.

Another common conundrum? Differing parenting approaches. For instance, your mother may figure, "I left you in the playpen, and you turned out just fine." Disagreement can lead to power struggles. Remember that rules involving sleep safety should be nonnegotiable. (A survey by Halo Innovations, makers of the SleepSack, found that 40 percent of parents of kids younger than 2 were concerned that babysitting grandparents were ignoring the Back to Sleep rule, designed to reduce the risk for SIDS.) If you have generational matters to sort out, establish a no-argument zone around the topics you feel most strongly about, Dr. Newman says.

But beyond that, give your parent leeway to make decisions and plan the day. "Approach the care of your child as a collaboration," Dr. Newman says, not a dictatorship. That means, unless your parents request it, don't type up a minute-by-minute schedule of what they should be doing. If Grandma wants to take the baby to the park and feed her lunch there, why not?

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