Some years ago, I worked with a woman who was distressed and angry with her parents. They were retirees who regularly cared for her two children while she worked but now they wanted to go on a holiday. She was incensed at their selfishness. She had become so accustomed to and dependent on her parents for free childcare that she forgot what a wonderful gift it was.

Now a grandparent myself, I thought about this woman the other day and wondered how different it could have been had she and her parents discussed childcare arrangements and set some guidelines and boundaries in place.

If both parties had developed a clear understanding of each other’s needs and boundaries the distress and ill feelings that came about when the parents wanted a break could have been avoided.

I didn’t want to go down that path myself.

Today it’s estimated that one in three grandparents will take on the part-time or full-time care of their grandchildren and the number is increasing as housing prices continue to soar and families struggle to find the money to buy a home.

Here are some thought starters for both parents and grandparents when discussing childcare.


  • Do you feel up the physical challenge of caring for your grandchild/grandchildren? Be honest with yourself about this.
  • How many days could you comfortably commit to without jeopardizing your health and emotional wellbeing?
  • Are there alternative arrangements in place if you are unwell, wish to take a holiday or have another commitment?
  • How many weeks/days a year do you anticipate you will want for holidays?
  • Are you prepared to accept the child-raising expectations of the parents with regard to food, snacks, eating and sleeping times, discipline, allowed activities, safety, hygiene etc. Child rearing attitudes have changed considerably since you were a parent. It is important that you and the parents are on the same page and that you respect their wishes in this regard.
  • Are the parents happy for you to take your grandchild in the car (assuming you have the correct child restraints) on outings or out in the pram/stroller?
  • What time will you be expected to arrive and leave on the days you care for your grandchild? What action will be taken if either the parents or you are unavoidably detained?
  • Have you agreed on how much notice you will be expected to give the parents if you plan to take a holiday or have another commitment?
  • Are you willing to be vaccinated against whooping cough if required?


  • Do you feel that your parent/s are physically able to care for your child/children for the number of days you are asking of them per week, without risking their health or mental wellbeing? Remember they are considerably older than you and may not have the energy you do.
  • Do you have secondary arrangements in place should your parent be unwell, wish to have a holiday or have another important commitment.
  • Have you provided your parent with a list of emergency contact numbers, for example: doctor, poisons emergency, local hospital, etc.
  • Do you have a first aid kit and do your parent have a basic knowledge of first aid.   You may wish to consider a first aid course for new mums. Grandparents can also attend. The emergency treatment of infants and small children is quite different from that of adults.
  • Are you and your parent on the same page with regard to food, snacks, eating and sleeping times, discipline, allowed activities, safety, hygiene etc for your child. It is vital that your parents are agreeable to supporting you in this. If you can’t agree on any issue, be prepared to discuss it further, with respect for each other’s opinion, until an agreement has been made.
  • Have you established guidelines with your parents in regard to outings with your child? Are you happy for them to take your child out in the car, in the stroller to the park, for example?

It’s not unusual for families to experience difficulties following the introduction of a new baby. For parents, it’s a time of enormous adjustment as their lives are changed irrevocably.  For grandparents the desire to help is overwhelming.

Through having a frank and caring discussion about expectations and needs, the caring experience can be an enormously rewarding period in the lives of both parents and grandparents.