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Grandparent Babysitters & Grown-Up Vacations

Grandparent Babysitters & Grown-Up Vacations

By Amalah

Dear Amalah – I need your help, whether it be in the form of a reality check or a high five.

My son’s preschool has a one week spring break every year. This year he went to stay with my in-laws for the week – they live a few hours away and we see them every month/every other month. He had a total blast, and my mother-in-law told us repeatedly how much she enjoyed the visit (my father-in-law worked during the week). The whole experience was so positive that my husband and I asked if his parents would be interested/willing to watch both my son (he’ll be 4.5) and daughter (she’ll be 2) for next year’s spring break because we wanted to go on an adults-only vacation. We added all the caveats – it was OK to say no, it was OK if it was for only part of the week, etc. They said yes right away though; my husband and I did lots of high-fives and bought plane tickets to somewhere tropical.

Since then, I’ve started to have some concerns about their willingness to watch the kids. Every time we’ve seen them, my FIL has started a conversation with my MIL (while I’m there) about how hard watching the kids will be. It is usually in a joking manner, but he tells her how exhausted she’ll be, how much energy the kids have, how they need a plan. I feel like this is a not-so-subtle way of saying that he doesn’t think this is a good idea. My MIL always says she knows, has a plan, and how much fun it will be. My FIL is a very nice person, but he also isn’t really a kid person – he loves babies, but he never really clicked with my son once he became a toddler. He and my daughter are close right now though, and she prefers him over my MIL. Unlike the last trip, he’s planning to take some time off work so he can help my MIL and spend time with the kids.

It got to the point that I asked if they were really sure they wanted to do this – if it wasn’t going to work we’d could cancel the trip, or my mother could split the week with them. They insisted again that it was what they want to do. My mother saw them at Thanksgiving, and now she is asking me if this plan is going to work because they talked about it in front of her. I realize this was a big ask, but my MIL constantly tells me she wants to spend more time with the kids. I don’t want to go into this vacation convinced that this set-up was a mistake, but I also feel like when someone says “yes” to something multiple times you need to accept that they really want to do it.

What say you?

I say: Enjoy your vacation, enjoy looking forward to your vacation, and ignore your FIL’s passive aggressive comments.

We have a similar set-up with my in-laws, who (unless we want to spend our entire travel budget on a babysitter and spend our vacations camping in our driveway) are our only option for overnight childcare. My MIL loves loves loves having the boys stay over and is sad to see them go, even after a full week. My FIL loves them very much, but yeah…really not so much of a “kid person” and is a bit more sensitive to having his home and routine upended. And yet every time we debate a grown-up only trip or weekend away, we ask, adding all the same caveats you offered, and they both agree (with admittedly various levels of enthusiasm) that yes, of course, they would love to watch them for us.

I’m with you on that. You say yes and commit to something and turn down MULTIPLE offers to back out (or even just downgrade your commitment level)…well. Okay! I’m going to take you at your word and assume all is well and that our plan is a go.

Sure, maybe your FIL isn’t as excited about it as your MIL. That’s fine! Maybe he won’t be as hands-on or helpful as your MIL would like…but that’s really between them, you know? I would just tune out his comments, or at least try not to take them so seriously as a Major Warning Sign that they’re going to back out at the last minute or your vacation is going to be A Thing that tears your family apart at the drama seams. He’s probably half-joking, half-apprehensive (which: two kids! at the same time! I get it! I still feel that way some afternoons when the school bus pulls up and I suddenly have three!)…and yeah, more than a little passive aggressive with his constant need to REMIND YOU OF ALL THEY WILL BE DOING FOR YOU, OH WHAT BURDENS WE SUFFER.

That said, while you can (and should) stop worrying about this, I do have a few suggestions on how to make the arrangement easier on them!

1.  When your MIL mentions she has a “plan,” go ahead and ask her about it. (I’d do it one-on-one, away from FIL.) Is she planning a bunch of activities and outings? If so, buy any required tickets in advance for them. (It can help to have firm a “Monday we’ll do this, Tuesday, we’ll do this” schedule in place.) Research additional toddler/preschooler-friendly destinations near them — indoor play spaces, children’s museums, really awesome playgrounds, farmers’ markets, etc. — and pass them along as recommendations and offer to cover any expenses.

2. If there are certain activities your kids really love that will keep them occupied somewhat independently (Play-Doh, puzzles, DVDs, etc.), ship that stuff directly to your in-laws so they have a stash of fun “stuff” they can pull out when they want to relax a bit or make dinner or whatever.

3. Pack enough clothing so laundry won’t be an issue. (Unless your MIL is like mine and already does like five loads a day; I now send a fraction of the clothing they need because A) it takes up less space in their limited guest room storage and B) I know she’ll wash everything anyway, no matter how much I pack!)

4. Beyond that, though, it also helps to just…let your in-laws figure stuff out and make their own calls. Try not to micromanage either before the trip or during. Maybe your kids will watch a lot more TV than usual. Maybe naps and meal/bedtimes won’t be held as sacred. That’s okay! That’s literally the whole point of going to stay with Grandma and Grandpa. Be very selective of what hard lines you choose to draw (and of course they exist — my in-laws don’t “believe” in sunscreen or ADHD medications but those are non-negotiable) and what you can just kinda ignore and roll with.

And finally, worst-case, it turns out that maybe they DID bite off more than they can chew and are completely exhausted and wiped by the end of the week. You’ll probably be able to tell, and should then use that knowledge going forward when considering using them for childcare again. Maybe a weekend is more their speed, or splitting the week up with your mom, or just one kid at a time from now on. Or they’ll be absolutely totally fine and have a great time! (Although that still might not stop your FIL from continuing to make the joking-complain-y comments in the future.)

Either way, bring them back a lovely thank-you gift from your vacation and/or get them a gift certificate for a really nice dinner out, just the two of them.


Photo source: Depositphotos/alebloshka


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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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  • CR

    December 4, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Oh, I have a similar FIL. Professes to really like spending time with the kids, but my MIL usually comes alone for afternoon visits. Basically I’ve decided he’s just passive-aggressive and pretty unaware of how it comes off. He is a nice guy, so I alternately ignore it or straight up address it and vent to my husband.

    Take them at their word. Enjoy your vacation. I had doubts when they agreed to watch our 4-yr old and 1-yr old this past summer, but it went well. I didn’t ask too many questions about food or naps, they had some fun outings, we thanked them and brought a gift. Even if my FIL retired to his room for an extended break, that was between him and my MIL (he often does this when we visit. He’ll just disappear for 4-5 hours, but hey. Better than getting cranky).

    Have fun!

  • beeejet

    December 4, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I almost never comment (but always read) but I just HAD to chime in today!
    Are you talking about MY father?!?! 🙂 Actually BOTH my parents do this. They don’t mean to be passive-aggressive. I take in more as a commentary on how busy kids are. Fun, but busy. And YES they WILL be tired after a week with your kids. Kids are tiring, which is why you need a vacation!!

    I once asked my mom about it and she was a bit shocked that I took her “he’ll wear you out” comments as a negative thing.

  • Rebecca

    December 4, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    My dad does that … my mom says “sure! Send the kids over” and my dad says “but it’s so much work!!!” And I ignore him because he does enjoy having them and they are in excellent health (they run and walk half marathons, are part of the tri team, my mom teaches yoga, etc-no excuses lol). My husband gets a bit antsy though when my dad says things so maybe you’re feeling apprehensive because they’re your in-laws?

  • Caroline Bowman

    December 5, 2017 at 7:13 am

    I agree with Amy, take them at their word, you have offered them multiple opportunities to back out or scale back, it’s now time to just let it happen. I would add one thing though, next time FIL starts up, address it directly in the most pleasant way. For example ”Jim, I can’t help but notice, as have my mom, the postman and anyone else in direct contact with you, how tiring and exhausting you feel it will be and it’s weird, because you keep making lots and lots and lots of very jokey comments that feel a bit like it’s really on your mind. Is there an issue and if so, please, please speak up now”. Then sit there and wait for him to say something.

    It’s very cowardly and passive-aggressive to do what he’s doing and he needs to either say something directly or shut up.

  • Caroline Bowman

    December 5, 2017 at 7:15 am

    does your son sleep badly? I ask because the fact that they’re fine to do overnights with older kids indicates that they’re not okay with broken nights. That might be the root of the matter. Ask directly. Give them 2 or 3 different examples of where they’ve said no next time they make noises about wanting him to come and stay over, and get an honest response.

  • Maybe?

    December 5, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate for a minute. Are you sure they know they can say no? My father-in-law is the only babysitter for my brother- and sister-in-law and he has privately told my husband and I that he doesn’t want to babysit for them, but he thinks he can’t say no because they don’t have any other options. So he’s stuck babysitting. He’s a grown man and SHOULD just be honest (which I’ve told him repeatedly), but he really thinks he’s their only option. So here we are. He gets more resentful with every long weekend away.

    You obviously know your parents best and can read what might be just mild muttering better than I can and I definitely don’t want to add to your anxiety about the situation, but I would caution that there might be more to do this.

    • Caroline Bowman

      December 6, 2017 at 6:04 am

      that’s a good point. The only thing is that other than repeatedly and on different occasions giving a golden opportunity to renege gracefully, or even to simply scale back, how can one make two sane adults realise the choice is absolutely theirs? In the end, you must take people at their word.

  • CKD1

    December 5, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    My FIL is a lot like this: he loves his grandchildren and now that they’re older (read: grown, basically) he’s WAY more comfortable with them. He was not a hands-on dad at all (he thinks it’s hilarious that he’s never changed a diaper!) and babies and small kids make him nervous. Loves them, thinks they’re cute, likes having them around…but being 24/7 responsible freaked him out unless there was back up. He’s probably worried what will happen if MIL doesn’t feel well and maybe even feels a little insecure in his abilities to entertain them? I would bet that’s what’s happening here and not stress about it too much. They will figure it out and have fun and this is so great for building those bonds with the grandparents. I miss mine every day and have such wonderful memories of sleepovers and baked goods and bedtimes that were theoretical. 🙂 HAVE FUN on your trip!

  • Erin

    December 6, 2017 at 11:21 am

    I think this advice is solid, but I’d add to directly ask your FIL to stop making these comments. My mom used to do this all the time, and was SHOCKED, genuinely shocked, when I called her out on it and asked her if she didn’t want to watch the kids as often. It’s like she didn’t realize she was doing it even, the passive-aggressiveness was so ingrained in her. I said something to her about a year ago, and she’s been 1000x better in attitude now, and is honest about how many days she can handle.