Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When Mom is on Your Daycare Payroll by Dr. Alan Singer

Can you imagine hiring a grandparent to be a paid nanny? Here is my monthly column that the Home News published on 4-27-09. Have you ever employed one of your parents at home or at your place of business? Did you set expectations clearly? If so, how?

Kelly contacted me after reading my column on delayed child-bearing. When she told me that she and her husband, Dave, hired her mother as their nanny, I interviewed them about their unique arrangement. Of the 18.5 million preschoolers in the United States who receive day care from a relative, 23 percent receive care from grandparents (Census Bureau). I called the Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor and AARP, but they had no data on grandparents who are paid for child care.

Kelly and Dave (both CPAs) live in Arizona with their 4-year-old twin daughters. They did not want community day care because their twins were born prematurely and their lungs weren't fully developed. "We didn't want them getting sick all the time." Two years ago, Kelly told her mom that they needed to hire a nanny and if her mom would move from Colorado to Arizona, they would pay her a salary.

She lived in their home for a bit and then she found an apartment of her own. Difficulties in their arrangement seemed to be related to expectations. Kelly: "Early on we talked about expectations, and I treated her like an employee. I prepared a chart of her days off each year, rate of pay, and what her nanny duties were." Dave recalls, "We learned that Kelly's mom needed structure, because she is a doer, not a creator. We want stimulation for our daughters, not just a baby sitter. We're not paying her to read a magazine while the girls watch a movie. I expect more from a nanny than from a baby-sitter. In her mom's defense, she never had been a nanny before."

And there were other problems, because Kelly's mom took a big step in moving away from her friends and leaving a job that made good money. "She is a very sociable person and put no effort into making new friends in Arizona. The decision was stressful and when she got here, I'm not sure this is what she anticipated." Dave was disappointed: "When you stay with someone for an extended period of time, you help out. She didn't do any extra work in our house."

Kelly now realizes that her mother has difficulties with the two distinct roles. "We treat her like an employee, when she's here as a nanny. We treat her as Nana on the weekends. She's having a hard time with the distinction about her identity, plus she doesn't like being dependent on us for income but she is." At the heart of the matter are Kelly's and Dave's expectations, which they did not clearly spell out. Kelly's mom didn't know those expectations and it created conflict between Kelly and her mom, and between Kelly and Dave.

Despite the problems, Kelly has put great effort into showing respect to her mother, explaining, "I'm not sure how to address my mom, because I don't want to talk down to her because I'm the child." Kudos to Kelly for her sensitivity. Dave concluded that in family situations such as these, you need to be crystal clear about expectations in advance. "When all is said and done," Dave emphasized, "We know she takes good care of our girls, and they are safe with her." Dave added that when the girls get sick or hurt, the hierarchy of who the girls want attention from first is: 1. Nana 2. Mom 3. Dad. Even after she moved out to her own apartment, the girls would plead, "I want my Nana!"

"Be Counted" columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. Respond to this column via his Web site