All In The Family: Using Relatives for Child Care | Working Mother

All In The Family: Using Relatives for Child Care

Nothing beats using relative care for low cost and flexibility—but can family ties survive the stress?

Child care arrangements with relatives often begin with high hopes and warm feelings all around—but relative care can be complex. You are no longer just mother and daughter or sisters-in-law, but also parent and caregiver, even employer/employee. Here are some tips to make sure relative care doesn’t complicate your relationship in unexpected—and unwanted—ways.

1. Develop an agreement. Having a relative care for your child seems like the ideal child care solution, offering familiarity, trust, flexibility, affordability and often easier transitions for your child. To ensure the arrangement remains ideal, take time to formulate mutually agreed upon rules and put them in writing. Your agreement should include:

  • Amount you will pay, and when.
  • Drop off and pick up times.
  • Details about snacks and meals. What will your child eat and who provides it?
  • A daily schedule. Plan for indoor and outdoor play, nap times, special activities and use of television or videos.
  • Any behavioral issues, and how discipline should be handled.
  • Health and safety information. (If it’s awkward to ask your relative to let you check her house for hazards, try asking her to help you "childproof" both your home and hers.)
  • Emergency Information: Name, address and phone number for you and your spouse at work, other emergency contacts and your child’s doctor. You should also include information on your child's special health issues, allergies or medications. You may also want to include written consent for emergency medical treatment if you can’t be reached.

2. Communicate. Chat with your caregiver every day about how the day went. Try to have a thorough discussion once a week to make sure all is going well. Remember to express your appreciation.

3. Make sure you and your relative take the child care role seriously. Be clear about what you want. Is it okay to run errands with your child along? How much time does your sister-in-law spend cleaning house or cooking while your child is there? Talk about these concerns before they become issues. At the same time, pay your relative a fair amount for caring for your child. If you cannot afford to pay for care, discuss what you can offer in exchange.

** 4. Help your relative get information and support.** Taking care of children is hard work. People caring for children can feel isolated and may not have all the resources they need. Pay your relative’s fee for an Infant-Child first-aid and CPR class, or help her find out where parents, grandparents, other relatives and children gather for play dates.

Relative care can get tricky when you want to make suggestions about the care your child receives. How can you get the care your child needs without causing problems in the family?

  • Choose your battles. Decide what issues are most important to you, and be flexible about other things.
  • Focus on your child. Instead of saying, "I don't like what you're doing," say: "Aidan is so active, I think he needs to play outside more often." Or, "At her checkup, Sarah’s doctor suggested that we get her together with other children."
  • Find a good time to talk. It’s important for children to know that you like and trust the relative who cares for them, so discuss problems when the children are not around.
  • Express your affection and approval even when you disagree. When bringing up a problem with a relative, focus on the shared history you have - and the shared love for your children.

For more information about child care in your area, visit or call 1-800-424-2246 to find your nearest Child Care Resource and Referral agency. Your local CCR&R can provide you with a safety checklist for a child care home and other helpful information.


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