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Grandpa Poppins or Daycare?

Grandpa Poppins or Daycare?

By Amalah

Hi Amy:

I found myself reading through your blog archives on my maternity leave (I feel like I know your kids! They are so great!) and am an avid Smackdown follower. I am now in a situation where I need independent third-party advice and hope you and your readers will be able to help.

I have a very happy and outgoing 8-month-old (my first), who has been in a traditional daycare since she was 14 weeks old. She’s currently in the infant room with 7 other babies (4-to-1 ratio is required where I live). It’s been … interesting. I have never been concerned about her safety, and it’s worked out well with breastfeeding (it’s 5 minutes down the road from my office, so I am able to nurse over lunch and keep her stocked with freshly pumped milk). But there have been a few issues. First, there is a ton of turnover. So much so that I’m not sure who will be there from one day to the next (though the original care provider is still there and my daughter loves her). Second, my daughter is not a great napper – she generally needs ideal circumstances to sleep more than 30 minutes at a time, and this daycare just hasn’t been able to make that happen for her. She often comes home having only gotten two 20-minute naps and has to be put immediately to bed once home. I can handle the early bedtime, but it breaks my heart knowing she is so tired all day, even if she’s generally happy. Third, now that my daughter is mobile, she gets much less attention from the providers than she used to – perhaps it is just that she is more interested in crawling and cruising than snuggling, but I have gone to nurse her at lunch to find her not having had a diaper changed since I dropped her off 4 hours prior. This has happened on at least 2 occasions. Fourth and finally, the COLDS oh the colds and the SICKNESS, which I know is par for the course, but still. Perhaps this is me being overly anxious as a first-time mom, but now that a new tuition hike is about to take place, we are starting to re-evaluate our options.

It has always been our plan to do the local Montessori program when our daughter is old enough – but we’ve still got 6 months to go before she’ll be eligible, and there’s a sizable waitlist. Recently, my MIL has been (not so subtly) hinting that my FIL was “devastated” when we didn’t ask him to nanny for our daughter from the start (even though neither of my husband’s parents have even offered to change a diaper, let alone watch the baby). They live a few states away, so he would have to move in with us for this to be an option. He is on the older side, and I’m just not sure it’s feasible. He is still in good health and very sharp, just slowing down a bit, but for some reason I don’t feel 100% comfortable. On top of that, my MIL is difficult to deal with, and I fear that having my FIL at our house full time will increase that tension and lead to future issues, especially should we decide the situation is not a good fit after giving it a try. On the other hand, my daughter really does love her grandpa – he comes to visit often and they have a great time together. And we have the space for him to stay with us without it being a truly cramped household. So I’m torn – should we at least give it a shot, sacrifice what little alone time we have as a family of 3, forego the stability of the daycare routine, risk family drama and some discomfort, knowing grandpa would certainly provide at least as much love and attention as a daycare could, and likely much more?

Do you or your readers have any insight into how we could possibly make this situation work? I think our daughter would be fine with the transition, but she really has thrived in the daycare setting. She’s starting to sign, fully crawling, pulling up, warming up to solids, and using a sippy cup right on schedule. This is not entirely a money issue, but we would like to try to save a bit more before trying for baby #2, so that would definitely be a positive to having Grandpa Nanny, even if it’s only for 6 months or so. But then won’t we be expected to enter into the same arrangement for the next baby? Am I overthinking this? Gah!

Thank you in advance!
(Almost) Done with Daycare

P.S. I just remembered a blog entry about your father-in-law using Clorox wipes on your son like they were baby wipes. That’s the type of worry I currently have.

Ooooooooohh this is a tricky one.

I have to admit I’m biased on this issue — for many many reasons, using grandparents as primary caregivers was a HARD NO for us personally, and throughout my many many years (smacks gums) of writing this column I’ve received enough letters that reflect how not ideal of a situation this can be. While it SOUNDS so good in theory (who else could possibly care for and love your child better than family?!), it really does come with a lot of unique challenges.

You’ve got your “I raised you so I know best” types who refuse to follow any instructions they don’t agree with. Then there’s the ones who WILL follow your instructions, but grumble and complain or backhandedly undermine your confidence in your decisions. Or the ones who won’t admit that maybe they aren’t really up for the responsibility, mentally or physically. And then there’s just the proximity and boundaries issues that everybody deals with when it comes to in-laws living with you, or at least being in your house 8+ hours a day. (The boundaries! Won’t somebody think of the boundaries!)

Of course it CAN and DOES work for many households, and works out in practice just as good as it sounds in theory. I would love for any readers to share their positive experiences, and perhaps some insight on the hows and whys, and whether it was similar or different to the arrangement you’re considering.

But no, I don’t think you’re overthinking this. You’re wise to recognize that this “free” childcare offer is anything but truly free. Here’s my (again, probably overly biased) take on the costs:

  1. I don’t like the way the “offer” was made. It was coated in a fine layer of guilt and no-so-subtle hints, that you “devastated” your FIL by not asking him in the first place. (Which: He didn’t ever explicitly offer? He lives several states away? And would need to move into your house? Why would that seem like the natural first choice?) That’s a red flag.
  2. He hasn’t actually babysat your daughter at all, or been hands-on with her care outside the role of doting grandpa. Which is fine! If that’s the role he wants, that’s the role he should remain in. The grandpa-as-full-time-nanny is a completely different role, and one he hasn’t really proven himself capable of. I would at least do a small trial run first (take a long day trip or stay overnight somewhere?) before seriously considering this.
  3. Think about some of the issues you have with your daycare and your current comfort level with raising those issues with them. Have you pointed out the lack of a diaper change or asked if they plan to address the turnover problem? Or have you just kept your concerns to yourself so not to “rock the boat” or “seem difficult?” Now try to imagine expressing concerns/displeasure to your FIL, who might also forget to change her/feed her on schedule, or mistakenly feed her a choking hazard, or turn the TV for hours at a time because he needs a break, or buckle her carseat incorrectly, or yes, mistake the Clorox wipes for diaper wipes. (All things that have happened to us, by the way. Not saying your FIL will 100% do any of those particular things, but it’s safe to assume that there will be SOME kind of hiccup or miscommunication along the way.)
  4. Living. With. You. In. Your. House. All the time. There at breakfast, there at dinner. How much do you trust him to give you and your spouse space, or do you see him expecting you both to keep him entertained and occupied? Will he intrude on your time with your daughter outside of “working hours”? Will he be helpful around the house in ways a traditional nanny might (loading/unloading dishwasher, cleaning up toys, helping with your daughter’s laundry, etc.) or will he see all that stuff as not his job?
  5. And lastly, HELL YES, you’d be setting a precedent/expectation for baby #2. If you DIDN’T bring him back as caregiver, that could (and probably will) be seen as even more of an explicit rejection of him.

But again, this arrangement CAN work, so on the flip side, I don’t think you’re crazy for considering it! But it’s smart not to just jump into it for fuzzy “family automatically means better childcare” idea that simply isn’t always true. Think long and hard and muddle through all the hypotheticals and what-ifs. Maybe arrange a one-week trial run (tell them the daycare is closing to be repainted, or something) and see how you (and your nerves) feel by the end of it. Recognize that yeah, a six-month interim could potentially lead to a two-year stint with baby #2, and that could either be 1) amazing and awesome and unbelievably convenient, or 2) not what you want and the source of a major sore spot/awkwardness with your in-laws going forward.

Personally, I’d hire a temporary live-out nanny for six months instead. But readers, what would you do?


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Bonnie

    June 19, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Can we expand a little on the “how the ‘offer’ was made” issue? Because it’s huge. Has FIL ever actually said a single thing to you about this? If it’s even clear that this is a thing that he himself actually wants, and isn’t something cooked up entirely by MIL, think about how that would play out once he was in your house – it doesn’t sound like he’s comfortable communicating and expects others to do his communicating for him or to guess what he wants. Imagine this extrapolated out to every dinner, every family outing, every time he needs to go to a doctor’s appointment but can’t bring himself to actually tell you that and thinks you should intuit it from a coded series of sighs and well-placed glances… this is a systemic failure, not a single simple quirk.

    • JD

      June 19, 2017 at 12:49 pm

      OP here – apparently FIL approached my husband early on to offer his services, but dropped it once hubby said we were happy with the daycare arrangement. The last time we were together (MIL, FIL, and me), I asked him if MIL was speaking for him when she said he wanted to nanny full time and he said “I was hoping you would ask me.” It is definitely an ongoing communication issue, but I don’t feel like it would completely foreclose the arrangement if we placed an emphasis on open communication. I think a trial run might help us evaluate whether that will be enough.

  • S. Bean

    June 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    I just want to say that all of those daycare problems were the same things we experienced (except I never checked during the day, so I have no idea if her diaper was/wasn’t changed!). We always had one or two consistent caregivers and then lots of floaters. My daughter is 2 now, and suffers no ill effects from short naps or the floating staff, and I think her immune system is super strong!

    My dad offered full-time caregiving for us for the first few months of her life, but since I knew she’d be in daycare when my parents went to their winter location, I put her in daycare right away since at 3 months she had no idea what was happening and she got used to it. My dad watched her one day per week. A mix of family and daycare has worked for us; full-time live-in grandparent nannying seems like a recipe for conflict, but you know your FIL and his temperament best of all. I could not have my dad as our live-in nanny, but he’s fine as a part-time caregiver at his house. I could have my FIL (who is quiet and keeps to himself and has no interest in involving himself in our lives) as a live-in caregiver if he had his own space to retire to after hours. It all depends on the personalities and living situation involved.

  • AliceWonderland0

    June 19, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    We had my MIL as our full time caregiver for the first 2 months that I went back to work, and I have a very good relationship with her and she is incredibly thoughtful and helpful and listened to what I wanted done with the baby, and we have a nice big house….. and by the end of the 2 months I was DYING to have our house and little family of three back. Basically, I don’t think I possibly could have had a better set up or a better experience with a family member providing care for our baby, and MAN was it still Too Much Family All The Time for me. Having an in-law live with you full time is tough, even if both the relationship and baby-caregiving are going wonderfully… and it sounds like there is plenty of potential here for both the relationship AND the caregiving to go less-than-smoothly already. I would be a bit wary of this arrangement, personally.

  • Olivia

    June 19, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Definitely speak up with the daycare – they provide a service to you for a fee so it’s totally normal and within reason to bring up concerns to them. I’d frame it more as “oh hey I noticed this” and avoid inflammatory language but they should be open to hearing your concerns and making corrections/changes. If she is otherwise happy and thriving at daycare (some kids just don’t nap well outside of home) and you are already planning on moving her to a (different) preschool in 6 months, I’d say get on the preschool wait list now and keep her in the daycare until then (our preschool officially started at 24 months but were willing to take kids as young as 20 months if they were ready). That’s a more similar transition than going to at home care with a family member and then transitioning back to a group setting not to mention the red flags that Amy and others pointed out.

    Since my son started kindergarten, we’ve had the in-laws (mostly FIL who is semi-retired) watch him once a week. We get along great and see them often in general (they live nearby). This summer, we also had them do a week of babysitting before camps started and even with our great relationship and everything (no screen time, they do gardening and projects and maker stuff and they honor all our requests!) it was a bit much. I noticed my son picked up a few less than awesome habits/phrases and he really does get spoiled rotten (which I’m fine with in doses just not for a whole week at a time). I’m okay with these trade offs on a regular basis but a full week just felt like a lot all at once. I super appreciate my in-laws and we love having them nearby but I can’t imagine if my FIL lived with us and was always around all the time. We just need our space to be us and it’s just not the same. My own mother lived with us for 6 weeks after my son was born and was super helpful with the cooking and cleaning and holding the baby when I couldn’t deal and needed a nap, etc. and still. I was so glad when she left and we had our house and lives back and it was just the 3 of us.

  • SB

    June 19, 2017 at 3:40 pm

    I actually had my parents move in with us for ten weeks prior to my son starting daycare (so from about 3.5 months til he was 6 months old) due to a wait list issue, and they cared for my son full time. At the time, it was fine – they were actually “between houses” (they had sold the “family home” but weren’t sure where they wanted to move) so it was convenient for them to live with us and not have to pay rent or a hotel room for 2.5 months. They are also my parents, and so I personally felt very comfortable talking to them when they didn’t follow my directions – but it was also good practice for me to see, “oh, they didn’t follow my directions and everyone is still alive, different is OK.”

    That said, I think them living with us and watching my son only worked because there was a set deadline for it to end, and because he was so young I didn’t know how he would react to daycare, so having two adults tend to him every day was great at the time. It also worked well logistically because I happened to be at a stage of my job where I was working from home for parts of the day, so it was SUPER nice that I could pop in and out of the living room between calls. So it was good for what it was, but I don’t know that I’d do it again.

    But I’ll also say that they were invited back this year for 2 weeks because my son’s daycare has a “summer vacation” (i know) and I really didn’t want to take that much time off of work, or try to fool myself into working from home with a toddler. So while I wouldn’t do it long term OR if daycare was an option, I’m fine with a short term solution – worst case, they pop him in front of the TV for two weeks – it’s only two weeks. I’d definitely recommend a trial run (a week or so) before committing, but truthfully I’d personally keep her in daycare and try to address the issues you are having with them directly. Good luck!

  • Kate Myers

    June 20, 2017 at 7:46 am

    The daycare doesn’t sound unsalvageable. Turnover happens, and I’d ask specifically for the diaper changing schedule. My kid’s daycare had a strict every 2 hours for every kid. If you’ve gone 4 hours, ask for that and asked for it logged. Additionally, my kid was never a good napper at that age but ask for other ways for her to get in another 3d small.nap if 2 short ones isn’t enough.

    Also ask how their care has changed with the crawling.

    On the grandfather, if you want to consider it, what does your husband think? And you both would need to have a frank conversation with your fil directly. You could also try it for a.few days- consciously acknowledging that both you and your husband and your fil would need to send how it works. Ask him to fill out a log ala daycare and have you all see how it went. With no pressure or obligation.

  • Autumm

    June 21, 2017 at 12:44 am

    I would start with emailing the day care center director about your concerns related to diaper changes. That’s something they could get flagged on if a state inspection were to happen. Be polite but firm that your daughter has missed several changes and how can this be resolved. Ask about staff training related to turnover in your email. It’s a writen record and those tend to get resolved faster than verbal communication. Just before responding to your post, I emailed our center director about why my kiddo wasn’t changed on schedule (cloth diapers are a giveaway if you don’t to changes on time as the extras are sitting there) and she was fed corn which she has a doctor note saying she shouldn’t have as it give explosive poop situations. I digress. Start with an email to the center director about your concerns. If they are truly concerned about the quality of care they are providing, they should reply and rectify. For the record, we have been very happy with our center for 2 kids and over 5 years, but sometimes the fences need rattling.

    As far as Grandpa nanny, please don’t! Too many red flags and just because a MIL with says he was “devastated” you didn’t consider him when they live hours away? If day care doesn’t work out, look for a nanny, different center, etc,but let your inlaws be grandparents. Invite them for a long weekend and get a date night if you feel comfortable with them after watching them actually care for your daughter. Especially as you noted he is slowing down; your daughter is just starting to speed up.

  • MR

    June 21, 2017 at 1:17 pm

    I agree, the fact that your FIL 1) Never actually said he wants to be the nanny, and 2) Lives a couple states away and thus would have to MOVE IN with you, automatically waves HUGE red flags to me. Of COURSE it wouldn’t be a natural conclusion to assume that someone who lived states away was the solution for daycare. That’s a pretty big deal. And that alone would be enough for me. I mean, I love my parents, and get along with them very well. And we have used them for short term daycare needs at times, like my son has hand foot and mouth disease right now and my husband is on travel, so my dad offered to drive over – about a 4 hour drive – and watch my son so I could be going to work this week. That’s amazing and incredibly generous! But I honestly never would have even thought of ASKING him to come. If it was something I knew about months in advance and didn’t have a solution, I’d ask, but him being willing to come over on such short notice and watch a sick and miserable child for a week is frankly too much to ask of someone, IMO. It is one thing if he offered, but I would not ASK that of someone. And you would be having to ask your FIL to MOVE permanently for months. That’s a HUGE ask. And he hasn’t indicated in any way shape or form that he is even interested. So, no, I wouldn’t be considering that as an option at all. So, that leaves you with, are the issues you are seeing at the daycare deal breakers, or can they be resolved? Either way, it doesn’t hurt to look around and see if there is anywhere else that you could move her to for the next 6ish months or so until she gets in the Montessori. You’ll either decide that this is the best you can do for now, or that there is something better out there in the meantime. Good luck!

  • Jeffiner Cox

    June 21, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    My daycare logs all diaper changes, and some days I noticed my daughter only had 3 changes in a 10 hour period. They have a policy of changing every 2 hours, but some days she was napping when her changing time came up, so they skipped it. When I pointed it out, they were more vigilant about making sure she was changed more often, regardless of the 2-hour change schedule.

    My daycare has a ton of turnover, too, and it really upsets my husband. We’ve visited other daycares, but they all have similar turnover rates. My daughter has never been the type of baby who was bothered by new people, though.

    Our pediatrician told us that as a daycare baby, she would be constantly sick until she was about 2, and then she would be fine. Doctor was exactly right.

  • Jeannie Shirley

    June 21, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    Just like to add, since my two kids, now 11 and 7, were daycare kids:

    1 High turnover is to be expected. We were lucky and had our kids in employer-subsidized daycare which meant the daycare staff were all licensed and were paid (somewhat) well with benefits and a pension, so it wasn’t too bad for us. But the kids coped with whatever turnover ok.

    2 sickness was always a Thing but: they hit school, and kids who *hadn’t* been in daycare were sick *all the time* and mine blew off most colds and illnesses. I say let them get sick in daycare because their missing a day or a week makes zero difference as compared to elementary school.

    3 I had one kid who was a *terrible* napper, and daycare — the chaos of it — actually helped, because he just eventually got used to it.

    And the diaper thing can be addressed. If she isn’t rashy, it’s not something that’s happening a lot.

    So I’d say: don’t give up on the daycare just yet …

  • Annie

    June 28, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    My in-laws lived with us for approximately a year when they were between good jobs, and we had enough space for a basement apartment situation. We had an infant and a three year old. I was not working that year, but home with our kids. My in-laws are absolutely lovely, and having them live with us went very well. They are rather scatterbrained, and having them watch our children was something we had to think about very carefully. My parents, on the other hand, are fantastic at childcare and tons of fun, but I would never want to live with them– my parents and I are too alike. Can your FIL come out for a visit/vacation? Maybe you’ll see some flags and decide it wouldn’t work out. Maybe you’ll find it could be a great solution. I agree that having an end date is a good plan for live-in relatives that you don’t want to live with you permanently. Its just better for everyone to be on the same page at the outset.

  • fearcutsdeeper

    June 28, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    My FIL watched my daughter part time from when she was 5 months old until she was one. (we had a babysitter for the other time) It actually went pretty well. There were a few iffy moments of child care decisions that I didn’t like but nothing life threatening or really dangerous. However he explicitly offered his help, he was very receptive to any constructive feedback or guidelines that we gave him and he is fantastic with children (especially his only granddaughter) and I think missed his mark at being a preschool or child care teacher.

  • K

    June 29, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Yeah – I second (third, fifth?) the question around whether your FIL even wants to move into your home and take care of your child (even with how lovely she sounds!). That’s a lot to ask, and unless there is really no other option at all, just seems like maybe not the most logical approach to childcare. I totally agree with the idea of talking with your providers about diaper changes and new approaches to care with crawlers, but I’m guessing that she’s doing great at daycare and even amazing daycare providers sometimes miss a change. One other thing that occurred to me: what do you think he would do all day with an 8 month old? What about a one year old who gets into everything and really does need to be interacted with? I love my FIL, and he would have no idea what to do with a baby all day. Same for my dad – they are both great, but I can’t imagine them actually taking care of a baby all day long, much less a new walker lol

  • Call Me Jo

    September 1, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Okay, I realize this post is 2 months old and a decision probably has been made, but there seem to be a couple factors that aren’t being considered. Primary, will you really be saving money? I expect that your FIL will eat at your house. His presence will mean an increase in your utilities. What about car/insurance/gas? Adding another adult to your household is expensive. If he’s providing free childcare, I doubt he will be contributing to the household in any other monetary way. You may even feel the need to “pay” him with dinners out, gifts, etc. and to prepare food for him and your daughter to eat while you are at work. And what about his marriage? What if he wants to go home for a visit? Even if you didn’t feel like you had to pay his way home, who will watch the baby while he is gone?

    Then there is the lack of socialization that daughter will experience. Unless your FIL is extremely outside the older man stereotype, he won’t feel comfortable hanging out with the young mothers at baby and me class or library time. And, as a “guest,” he probably won’t feel compelled to go grocery shopping or run household errands. Your daughter would probably be spending a lot of time alone with grandpa at home, and I think you would start to worry about that part of her development.

    To the OP, I hope you settled on a decision that has worked out for your whole family.

  • Hilary Browning

    November 14, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    I wanted to comment that I have a working child-care situation with my in-laws. My daughter is 2, and she has been cared for by my inlaws since she was six months. There was a gap between when my maternity leave ended and when my in-laws retired, and it was filled by daycare center at the Air Force Base where we live. I think this has worked for us because of the following factors:

    1) My in-laws expressed a fervent desire to watch our daughter. My father in law is a retired elementary school teacher, and my mother in law is by nature an extremely helpful, non-judgey type. They even pick my daughter up from my house in the morning to make my commute better.

    2) My in-laws live close to us, but not with us. They have their own house, and we helped to pay for and set-up a little area for our daughter at their house.

    3) My in-laws follow our wishes, almost to the letter, and usually do not question our parenting judgement. When I wanted to transition to pull-ups and start potty training, my in-laws did it. We discussed how we were going to do it, shared books and tips, but after that they simply did what we asked.

    4) We buy activities for our daughter and the grandparents to do together– such as membership to the YMCA for everyone, where my inlaws can exercise and my daughter can play in the onsite daycare. Memberships to local museums and we sign her up for extracurricular classes at the library.

    5) We remunerate my in-laws with groceries and other things that they wouldn’t do for themselves. For example, we bought them a trip for the summer– a nice 2 week vacation to thank them for caring for our daughter.

    She will be going to daycare soon–probably in the spring. We intend to use this same arrangement with Baby #2. I know this is a special situation, but I wanted to share that it can work and what I think has helped it to work for us.