Q. My mom has offered to watch my 15-month-old when I go back to work next month. Part of me loves the idea: I know she adores my daughter, plus we'd save a bundle on childcare. But I can think of potential problems too -- like the fact that she might spoil my baby by letting her eat junk or skip her nap. I can't decide whether this is a good idea!
A. Like you, lots of moms and dads see the benefits of an arrangement like this: There are more than twice as many parents using family members for childcare than there are using daycare centers. But you're smart to think about potential drawbacks too. It's one thing to dismiss a nanny you hired, but it's quite another to fire your mom.
So you really need to treat this in a businesslike way. Meet with your mother to discuss logistics: Even if she refuses to accept any payment, insist on supplying diapers, extra clothes, toys, and food (including healthy snacks.) Agree on a drop-off and pick-up schedule and be prepared to get there on time or call if you'll be delayed -- the same thing that you'd do for a paid childcare worker.
Talk to her about meals, activities, and discipline. Tell her what rules are really important to you and why: "Brenna really needs to nap in the afternoon because it helps her sleep better at night" or "If she eats chips when she's with you, it spoils her appetite for dinner." If it makes things less awkward, blame it on the experts: "Our pediatrician recommends..." or "I just read a new book on discipline, and the psychologist said..."
If you're still tentative -- and, really, you should be -- you might suggest giving it a try for two or three months. A wonderful grandma or a fabulous aunt doesn't always make the best daycare provider, and a trial period will give you both a chance to assess the arrangement and to call it quits (no hurt feelings!) if it isn't working.