Your maternity leave is almost up—time to get serious about child care. So you review community care centers, in-home day cares and hiring an au pair or nanny. But you keep circling back to “family member.” In fact, 48 percent of children with working moms are primarily cared for by relatives, according to U.S. Department of Education data. No surprise, as this option may save you money, put your baby in known safe hands and let him bond with extended family. But there are caveats, says Sheila Marcelo, CEO of the online care-providers source Care.com.
It can be tough to enforce your rules with a close relative, Marcelo points out. While it’s your duty to establish guidelines—for example, no plunking the baby in front of the TV—it can be awkward asserting your child-raising methods with, say, your mom. But Marcelo advises setting the same rules with family as you would with hired help. “Write out a list of your expectations and core values,” she says. Then explain that this is what you’d give to any caregiver and you want to pass it along. Have formal conversations about day-to-day routines and how you want things done. Be clear: Don’t assume that your mom will automatically know what you expect. By the same token, agree on what’s expected of you, like getting home by 6:00 p.m. And do your best to communicate while avoiding friction.
As for pay, Marcelo suggests offering family caregivers the market rate, out of respect. Of course, some relatives may decline your offer, but you want them to know that you value their time. So be very generous with treats (like a massage at a local spa) and holiday gifts to show your appreciation. In any case, pay a daily stipend for food, gas for baby toting and anything else needed for care.
Not sure family care is right for you? Ask yourself: Will leaving my baby with a relative make me calmer or more stressed? If it will relax you, go for it. On the other hand, you may want to look for day care if you know dealing with Aunt Tess will drive you up a tree.
When Nana’s Too Nice
To get your lenient mom to play by your rules with your child:
- MIND THE (GENERATION) GAP. Explain that times are different from when she raised you, says Care.com’s Sheila Marcelo—snacks have more harmful additives, and experts say avoid TV for under-2’s.
- SLEEP ON IT. Before you blow up at your mom, think how you’d explain the problem to a nanny.
- DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF. Make sure Grandma’s rule infraction is important enough for a battle. If not, let it slide.