Paying Grandma for Childcare?

Here is one of those unusual and discussion-worthy letters at Berkeley Parents Network:

I’m wondering what other people’s opinion is on paying grandparents for childcare. My mother-in-law will be watching my two boys for about 10 hours a week while I am at work. She has asked to be reimbursed (she’s not charging as much as a nanny would, but still…). I could see if she were struggling financially, but the fact is, her husband makes a good salary, they live in a large house in a nice neighborhood and if anything, WE are the ones living a frugal life. Does anybody else pay their parents for childcare? If so, how much, and what are the extenuating circumstances? I have to admit my feelings are hurt by this. It also creates awkwardness–if the boys invite themselves over to visit her, which they often do, do I say, ”Nope, sorry, we can’t afford a visit today?”
Dismayed at ”Grandma-for-hire”

If my mom or mother-in-law were to watch the children regularly while I worked, I would offer to pay, especially since they are both working-age and not financially stable.

I had a similar experience with my sister and I am still unsure how to navigate this unfamiliar territory. She is a broke college student who lived with us for 3.5 years rent-free. We bought her a laptop and when she first moved in with us paid her to watch Ari and do household chores. She now lives in an apartment with a roommate and visits us when she can, which is not often.

But she is most likely to come if she knows it is for a babysitting job. Because my kids love her so much, I have put aside my resentment and paid her $20 an hour to watch the kids. Also, she really needs the money.

I admit, I have not done this in weeks because my husband and I rarely go out, she is never willing to watch the kids on a Friday or Saturday night and we don’t like feeling like visits from auntie are expensive. So we rarely see her, and when we do, I pay her only if she stays the day and entertains the kids for every minute of it. Otherwise, I send her home with leftovers.

Do you pay family members to watch your kids? What dictates the terms?


45 thoughts on “Paying Grandma for Childcare?

  1. I haven’t paid our parents

    and they wouldn’t accept it.  But I don’t see a problem with paying a family member, especially if they’re doing it on a regular basis.  I’ll admit that I enjoy free child care , but I don’t feel entitled to it.  I’ve paid my SIL on a couple of occasions, which feels right especially since she works in a daycare.

    I’ll admit that when my MIL was providing huge amounts of child care for my BIL, I wished she would charge him.  I felt like he needed to understand that his child was his responsibility, and also that he would think more carefully about how he spent his time if he had to pay for every hour of it.  He worked a lot, but he also did a whole lot of whatever the hell he wanted.  I charged him when I watched his son, while my MIL was out of town, mostly to subtly point out that I was doing HIM a favor, not her.

    $20 an hour, though?  That’s steep, especially for someone who won’t do weekends.

    • The horror

      My MIL would never accept payment to watch the kids, and as a 68-year-old non-driver, she takes two trains to come watch them for us fairly often.

      But I, too, see nothing wrong with a grandparent wanting some payment if they are your regular weekly childcare. Or, some kind of trade off — like the person takes the grandparent grocery shopping once a week and pays the bill. One of my daughter’s classmates is tended by her grandma full time, and Grandma is paid a nanny’s salary for it — she’d have to work no matter what, so why not work for her own family?

  2. My niece came to town to attend college

    when my children were small.  We paid her to babysit.  She never asked, and often said that we didn’t have to pay her.  But, I felt like I would have paid any other college student in that situation and did if she was not available. She also helped watch our dog when we left town and I paid her for that too.

  3. When DD was born

    I was a single mom, and I lived with my parents.  I payed rent (Super cheap, like $100/month) and I paid for babysitting when I went out, but not if I worked OT.  DD went to daycare because my mom wanted to me a grandma and not another mom (aka: I want to be able to spoil her, and if I’m the primary care giver, I won’t be able to spoil her and have her turn out OK).  Just before DD turned 3, I bought my house.  I was in my house for about a month, and my mom and step-dad presented me with a check.  It turns out that my parents had saved all the $ I had paid them and invested it well.  That check helped pay for all of the relatively inexpensive things that you need when buying a home that really add up, and helped pay for part of the garage and driveway I put in after being here for a year.

    She recently revisited the idea of paying my sis and I paying her to watch the kids, since now there are 3 little ones (DS, niece and nephew).  Again she decided that, no, she wants to be the spoiler.  She still loves having them, and does watch them for free, but not all the time.  She likes being able to spoil them rotten and then send them home :)

    My parents also have a really large house in a really nice neighborhood, and are pretty well off financially, but still remain concerned about retirement.

    • Smart parents!

      I love that they were able to save the money you paid them, invest it, and then give it back to you when it would be really helpful.  What a great idea!  

      My parents do a mix – they come and stay when we need help (e.g. one of us is out of town) and visit for fun and spoiling quite often.  We live about 4 hours away now so it’s always planned.  When Mira was first born we lived closer and Mom stayed with Mira 1-2 days a week.  She wouldn’t have taken money – probably in large part because they are much better off financially than we are.  

      I do understand the points of not taking advantage of grandparents though – when we moved we were definitely blindsided by how much harder it was without them nearby!  Although I don’t think that paying them would have changed that as the money was only a small piece of what changed!

      • I liked her parents’ solution, too

        It was a great idea.

        I think one big difference, and why the poster’s mom might charge, is the fact that she’s doing it on their schedule.  My parents and in-laws make our lives a lot easier, but they almost always do it on their own time.  

    • Just in case you all can’t tell…

      I’m super close with all of my parents and my sister.  I think they all rock, and we all try to help each other out when and where we can.  My mom and step dad are always stunned at how other grandparents/parents are toward their grandchildren/children when they don’t behave in the same manner as they do, and have a difficult time accepting perfectly legitimate reasons for the difference in behavior.  My mother in particular has a difficult time accepting my in-laws lack of involvement with my children, my son in particular, since DD isn’t biologically “theirs”.  (She tries to treat her step-grandchildren like grandchildren, but they are only w/ my sister every other weekend and she doesn’t see them much so it can be difficult for her.)  She also doesn’t understand my sister’s MIL’s lack of involvement.  I remember when my sis had her DD, her MIL came and visited, but my poor sis was left trying to entertain, instead of being helped out.  My mom stayed with sis for a week so she could sleep and not have to worry about cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, and just had to sleep and nurse.

      Mom also doesn’t “get” my SIL and my sister’s BIL.  Both only call if they need something, and otherwise have nothing to do with us except around the holidays.

  4. grandma wouldn’t accept it

    We offered to pay my mother for watching our girls (twins) when I first returned to work after a six month maternity leave.  She watched them for 5 weeks (50 hrs/wk), until we found a babysitter we were happy with.  She refused to take any money from us, even though I know she could’ve used it.  She was offended we would even offer, as she firmly believes that caring for her grandchildren is a family obligation (one she enjoys).  Maybe her feelings stem from the fact that she’s from a different culture, where it’s common for grandparents to live with their children and grandchildren or at least close by.    We don’t pay my sisters either when they watch our girls.  Instead, we try to be generous when they need/want something.

    It’s a tough position to be in.  If it makes you uncomfortable to pay a relative, then I suggest finding a non-related nanny (it may be worth the extra expense to avoid the discomfort that results from paying a relative for child care).

    • Same here

      MIL is Polish, and it would be unheard of. But, there is a trade-off in our family. DH does all the work around their house, and takes her shopping often since she doesn’t drive. So we end up all contributing to each other’s needs.

  5. I paid my older kids

    to babysit the younger ones when they needed sitters.  I didn’t pay them if we went out to grocery shop, go to a doctor’s appointment, etc., but if we went out for “fun”, I’d pay.  

    Since we didn’t live near enough to our parents, the question didn’t really arise.  If I was using them regularly, I might bring home “gifts” instead of offering cash payment.

  6. Dream Dinners

    I was prepping my meals next to a woman who was making 2 of everything, one for herself and one for her parents.  They wouldn’t take money for watching her baby while she worked, so she paid them in food that was easy to prepare and delicious.

  7. I guess it depends

    If it’s some sort of regular arrangement, I’d probably offer to pay– but I’d feel resentful if actually made to  pay by MIL who’s well-off. So. Passive-aggressive much?

    Oh forget it. I don’t feel very rational today.

    $20 per hour is a LOT of money. Not even Mary Freakin Poppins is worth that much.

    • $20/hr is A LOT.

      Maybe I’m a miser, but when paying young people, I like to go with what’s market value…minimum wage or a little over.  Otherwise, mine seemed to get a very inflated value of their worth in the workplace.

      • Sounds like a lot to me, too

        as I said above.  But it may be the going rate for a regular nanny (I’m not at all sure about a babysitter).  Especially since Elisa’s sister hasn’t been shy about taking them up on their many generous offers.  OTOH, I’m not sure childcare should be a bargain.  People talk about how much they love their children, but think it’s appropriate to pay whoever is taking care of them minimum wage?

        • I think it’s appropriate to pay

          a young person who sits occasionally what the going market rate is.  We went through this at home with our own kids.  My thought was initially to be very generous, since, hey, I provided them with all their wants and needs already, so I might as well let them feel as if they were working for some of their expenses.  However, after awhile, this got way out of hand…I had kids expecting $20 for watching TV with a seven year old for less than an hour while we attended a parent teacher conference.  I also had kids expect $20 to do a load of dishes and clean up in the kitchen at the end of a day.  I had to tell them that on the open market, their labor was worth no where near that much!

          Childcare and payment.  It’s really difficult.  While ofcourse, no one wants to think of “bargain basement babysitting”, there are realities.  Many working mothers don’t make anywhere near $20/hr themselves.  Should we confine them to being stay at home mothers or do we actually pay someone to make more money to watch their children than they might make out on a job?  

          • It is difficult

            Let me be clear that I don’t think you should pay your OWN children $20 dollars an hour, and a big reason for paying a nanny better than a babysitter is as a retainer.

            But (I don’t think this is what you’re really saying), I don’t think childcare is a public service, and I don’t think looking at the big picture and saying  that childcare should be inexpensive so that parents aren’t confined to having one stay home is a good reason.  Plumbers cost a lot more than $20 an hour, and I think nothing of paying my exterminator around $100 quarterly to spend five minutes spraying around the outside of our house.  There are differences, considering that I don’t pay the exterminator $100 an hour 40 hours a week, and I’ll grant that he has a bigger overhead than a babysitter does.  OTOH, I care a lot more that a babysitter do an excellent job.  All of these people have every right to be paid–they’re doing jobs, not favors.  I’d be cool with government subsidies vs. parents footing the entire bill, though.

            • But how on earth would

              we make policy around that?  Do we really want to pay someone more to watch a child eight hours a week than what the parent earns?  If that’s the case, do those parents who stay at home with their children deserve $20/hr for forty hours a week?  How would it be fair otherwise?

              I’m all for subsidized daycare.  And yes, we love our children and do want the best for them, but the “best” isn’t always measured by dollars and cents.

              • Well…

                I don’t think caring for your own children is the same as caring for someone else’s.  I had a friend who didn’t want to pay her roommate/babysitter when she was gone for the night, saying that she shouldn’t get paid just for sleeping.  So is she free to go out after the kid is asleep?  I think not.  But I do consider it a lovely break for myself after my kids are asleep.  You just aren’t entitled to as much “do whatever you want” time when you have little kids.

                And no, “best” isn’t always measured by dollars and cents, but working in preschool, as a nanny, etc, I got pretty tired of hearing how important I was, that it shouldn’t make me feel “less than” just because I earned less than.  I want to get paid in money, not self esteem or karma.  People work to get paid, and there aren’t many other fields where that’s considered a problem.

                • dilemma

                  I agree with you that carers should be paid a living wage.  At least.  And, I know it’s hard for families to pay that much for child or elder care. I don’t know what the right answer is. It doesn’t seem right that only rich people can hire help.  

                  I know the cost of childcare (and education, etc.) was a factor in our thinking about the size of our family, though the final determinant was that my health couldn’t support another pregnancy. And ironically, we found wonderful care at a rock-bottom price, because the woman who cared for DS loved being around kids and had a healthy retirement fund. So she subsidized, basically.

                  • It’s very difficult

                    to think of a good answer.  I don’t have one, but I’m positive that expecting caretakers to take one for the team isn’t it.  

                    I think it’s great you found such a great nanny for your son, and the fact that she loved what she was doing and was still able to get by is great.  I’m not faulting YOU in the least, and I absolutely don’t think that only rich people should be able to have kids.  But a lot of people strike deals like that, and I’m not sure working out a mutually beneficial agreement should have to be so serendipitous.

                    • ITA

                      There does seem to be an expectation (maybe sublimated guilt?) that carers are doing their jobs out of love.  That’s all fine and good, but other people love their work and expect to be paid.

                      I think scrimping on childcare, if you can possibly avoid it, is a poor strategy.  My former SIL used to basically threaten a nanny that she would report her to immigration if the woman didn’t do X, Y, and Z, and all for a low wage. One way the nanny retaliated was by stealing gifts that arrived through the mail or UPS. I actually had a hard time faulting her for that! I love my SIL but had a hard time sympathizing when the nanny left with only a week’s notice. SIL was shocked! and appalled! to be treated so carelessly.

                • There are probably people in many

                  lines of work who would like to be better paid.  I’m enough of a socialist to believe that all work is valuable and that we should have far less disparity in earnings.  However, I still don’t understand how we could make such programs work without totally changing our entire economic system.  

                  • You’re probably right

                    but I still can’t sit back and say “well, this is the way it is, so it’s alright to continue with it”.  Because the problem with that is, it works forever.

                    • I guess I’m getting old and tired.

                      Really.  And if we continue down the path we’re on, we could well see all “service” jobs having to pay higher wages as they continue to be part of the dominant industry in this country.  

        • My friend who had a nanny for her 3 kids

          paid $450 per week. $20 per hour is the equivalent of $40K per year, and I don’t know any nannies who earn close to that here in MN.

          • But so?

            40K is hardly living large.  What is it that it’s those who care for children and the elderly are expected to live in poverty just because their talents lie in care taking?

            • $40,000 is almost $10,000/yr

              more than what a starting teacher earns in our district.  They do quickly go up to the $40,000+ range, but without requiring comparable education, I don’t see how we are going to pay carer’s more.

              What I’d like to see is a true universal healthcare system, as well as a larger national pension program, subsidized daycare, and affordable education for everyone.  If we had that, we’d all have more options, and $40,000/yr would go a heckuva lot further.

              • going further

                heck yeah. I’m fine with making a small income, but is it so much to ask that life’s necessities be equally affordable? Safe housing, schools, and reasonably affordable health care that actually covers stuff you need it too. I don’t need $25 diamonds from Wal-Mart, or a 5,000, or even 2,000, square foot house. Make those things expensive for all I care.

            • The problem is

              people who take care of kids have to earn less than the lowest earning parent, otherwise they are not necessary. Sure, there are exceptions but this is the economics of 99.99% of working parents’ situations.

            • 40K is living pretty good

              especially for a single young person, which most nannies around here are.

              My DH pointed out he made 40K after ten years in his industry– and he had a car and a house (combined with my income, which was about the same as his).

      • Going rates

        We recently used a service that provides sitters (part time/occasional) that have been screened.  We each pay her 2.25 per kid per hour to watch 8 kids upstairs while we gather downstairs.  Apparently that’s the going rate for these college kids.  
        I worked in daycare for many years and then did care in my home after I had kids.  I certainly didn’t expect to make a living off of one or two kids.  Maybe a nanny is unrealistic for a family that’s not well-off?  

        • That’s the conclusion

          I was forming in my mind.  Nannies just aren’t financially feasible for the middle class.  Which is fine.  Government subsidies would be easier to manage when going to well-funded and regulated daycares.  

          • By the way

            just to be clear, the reason I’m saying it’s fine that ethically paid nannies may be out of the reach of the average person is that it doesn’t make quality childcare out of reach at all.

            • Exactly

              I meant to respond as such earlier.  There is nothing wrong with a quality center or in-home situation.  Some people can afford nannies.  Some people can afford private schools.  Some people can afford private tutors.  

    • I agree about MF Poppins! 😉

      we never paid my niece anything near $20 an hour.  Probably in the $8 range.  But we always left snacks for her and encouraged her to bring her laundry.

  8. Only when I lived with them

    But I am sure it is so dependent on everyone’s situation and of course it needs to be discussed/agreed upon from the start.

    With my oldest I spent a significant amount of time totally on my own with no financial support ever from his dad. I lived with my parents for about 2 years covering late pre-school and the first half of K for Nick. I was working full time and going to school at night. My mom covered school nights. I paid them rent while I lived there which we all agreed included the babysitting time for me to go to school. Other than those years, there is no money involved if they watched either of the boys for a day or night. They would never take money for that.

    Nick has been paid to babysit Alex here and there over the years. Not in awhile though. He just does it because he wants to hang out with his brother and doesn’t ever expect payment.

  9. I will offer to pay anyone

    Mostly it has been my parents, and we owe them a huge amt of money, and they don’t consider it work.  But any other relatives, I would totally pay.  Otherwise I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be totally responsible for the kids.  If they’re just visiting and helping you out, that’s one thing.  But alone with the kids is a lot of work.  My parents are just visiting and helping out, and it is their decision to have the kids out of daycare.  It helps us out a lot financially, so I would be willing to pay, but it doesn’t make any sense in that situation.

  10. $20 an HOUR!!!

    Wow, that is too much.  I pay 18 an hour to have FIVE kids babysat by non-family.  No, I have never paid my mother for babysitting.  We don’t keep track, but it is a reciprocal relationship.  I drop her at the airport for a vacation and take in her mail or pick up things at the store if I am going and she is busy at work, etc.  I would not use her if it was for pay because that would be weird.  I would rather pay a non-family member than do that.

    • generous, Elisa!

      When she lived w/us for free, I paid my SIL 5-10/hr for child care. When she moved out, I paid my SIL 10-20$ hr EVERY time she minded DD#1. And she went home w/leftovers, too.

      When she decided to have her little hissy “I hate you and you don’t appreciate me” drama last year, and hasn’t been in touch since,  i was then stuck expaining the concept of cupboard love to my heartbroken 9 year old.

      I wonder if she would have come over and hung out w/her just for the heck of it. Yuck.

  11. Bay Area…

    Yeah, the going rate for a nanny is $12 an hour for ONE child or $10 an hour per child if there is more than one. It is a lot, but it is hardly a living wage in the Bay Area.

    That said, my sister is not a professional nanny, which is why I am balking at paying her that much. She hasn’t taken CPR, child development courses or have years experience like my nanny has — as have so many in this area.

    My issue is the kids love her so much and want to see her. I hired another college student for $15 an hour, but my kids were not as close to her and she, too, was too busy.

    SusanG of Daily Kos now lives near us and she has watched the kids when need be. For the most part, we never go out because the childcare situation is way too complicated! I am looking forward to the teen years when the kids can stay home alone. :)

    • I cannot tell you

      how great it is when you can go out for an hour or two without worrying about getting someone to look after the kids!  Truly, when we got to that point, it was almost like a second honeymoon.

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