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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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