Setting ground rules for relative care

Setting ground rules for relative care

Setting up clear lines of communication from the beginning helps any childcare relationship to go more smoothly. This is important especially when your caregiver is also a family member.

You need to make sure that you set up a system for exchanging comments, questions and concerns. If you trust your relative enough to have her care for your child, she will have helpful ideas and suggestions. Moreover she is providing a valuable service for your family at the expense of other areas of her life.

Jean Santiago a mom from Bowie, Maryland says that they purposely never asked her mom to watch the baby full time as they respected her lifestyle. She says that her mom is a widow and loves to travel and she is very busy in the community. They knew that asking her to watch her son full time will cut down on her freedom.

But if your mother or aunt is willing to trade her personal freedom for your baby's well-being, then you should recognize and appreciate her generosity. You can write down your agreement. You should discuss her hours, time off and anything else which comes to your mind. Remember where your baby is concerned nothing is too small or unimportant.

You may feel uncomfortable about making a family member sign a contract, but coming up with a less formal agreement could help spell things out for both of you. Make sure that you speak about:

Childcare philosophies

If you are comfortable in having your relative care for your child, then there are chances that the two of you already share similar views on childrearing. Susan Klee says that she admires how her daughter is raising her children, she watched her granddaughter Michela once a week for four years. She says that she goes along with whatever her daughter wants, and if she disagrees she never says anything. She just does things the way her daughter wants them done.

If your relative has the same healthy attitude as Susan, then it is important for you to be clear about how you will prefer her to handle certain issues such as:

Discipline- You can describe few scenarios for your relative so that she understands your approach. For example, you can tell her to deal with temper tantrums by having a time out, and handle toilet training accidents by reminding your child to come to you the next time she wants to visit the restroom. Let her know that you do not hit or spank your child. This is a touchy issue which may be difficult to discuss with a family member. You should be open to her ideas as well, but your preferences should be made clear.

Food- You should discuss how, when and what you want your child to eat. If your baby is an infant, then you should make it clear that you do not want her to eat solids till she is six months old. If you have a toddler, then you can make a list of snacks and lunches. If you feel that your relative will have a tough time in following your recommendations, you can prepare your child's food on your own ahead of time

Sleep- When does your baby nap and for how long? Should your toddler still be taking a nap every afternoon? Your should brief your relative about your child's sleeping habits, and make sure that your child has a quiet, safe, and clean place for a daytime nap.

Crying- Do you let your baby cry before she goes to sleep, or do you go to her right away? How long should your relative let your child cry before they go to her? This can be another difficult subject to handle, so you need handle it tactfully. You may not be able to change your relative's mind overnight, especially if she is your mother or an aunt, but if you explain your decision and give some additional resources to support your position, she will understand.

Playtime- You should give your relatives a list of toys and activities that you prefer. You can include guidelines for watching TV. If your relative is caring for your child at her house, you should provide the toys, books, games and DVDs you want your child to play with and see.

If your relative disagrees with your methods, then you should choose your battle carefully. You will have to decide what issues are the most important to you starting from toilet training when your child is ready or feeding the baby on demand. You should take a stand on those and then speak about other issues more gradually.

Lisa Mihaly, Susan Klee's daughter says that they had to clear out expectations on naptime. She says that they had to pick their own issues, and her mom would take Michela to the bakery more often than she would, but that was fine. Michela needs someone in her life to buy her the occasional chocolate chip cookie says Lisa.

According to the National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies' Daily Parent newsletter, it also helps to discuss problems and concerns from your child's viewpoint. Instead of saying things like 'I do not like what you are doing', you can say, that 'Johnny is so active, I think that he needs to play outside more often.'

Different strategies work for different families. J.J Craft, a mom from Anchorage, Alaska says that when her father-in-law was watching Kayla it was a very precarious situation as he had his own ideas about how things should be done, and they had theirs. They used to tell him that he could watch her only if he followed the guidelines that they set for him. If he could not, then she would go to daycare. He did not like the idea of sending her to daycare, so he followed the rules pretty well.

Keeping in touch

To make your caregiver-parent relationship work well, you should decide ahead of time how you will check in with each other or bring up any questions and concern. You can have a quick, casual chat at the end of each day or schedule a more formal weekly or monthly meeting. Remember that this is for both of you, as both of you need the opportunity to get worries and ideas out in the open.

A backup plan

You should speak about what you should do if your relative is sick or unavailable due to an emergency. You should come up with an alternative childcare plan together. Your relative may know someone else who can care for your child, but finding that person is not her responsibility. If she does suggest someone, you have to make sure that the person is a qualified caregiver, and you should feel comfortable leaving your child in her care. If your relative has a class or an appointment, and wants to leave your child with her next door neighbor, then she has to clear this arrangement with you first.


If your baby is being cared for in a relative's home, you should keep in mind that it may not be baby proof, the way yours is. You should remind your family members gently to keep all medicines, cleaning supplies and breakables out of reach. You should supply necessary outlet covers or cabinet latches to make the house safe for your baby. If your relative wants to take your child on outings in the car, you will have to give her a safe car seat to use.


Will your relative have visitors during the day? You need to establish what is and not alright when it comes to other people interacting with your baby. Your caregiver should ask for your permission before going on regular outings and excursions whether it is the zoo or the corner store.

Remember that you are your relative's employer but you are also family. So you should not try to be a difficult boss. Having a relative care for your child will be good for all of you, that is, you, your child and your relative.

Susan Klee says that taking care of her granddaughter has deepened her relationship with her daughter. Lisa Mihaly says that her daughter and mother have a wonderful relationship. She also says that you cannot buy this kind of childcare as it is priceless.


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