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All in the family

Grandparents Make First-Rate Babysitters

By Elizabeth Heubeck

“Go, go,” my mother urged me, as I continued to fret over my fussy infant even while walking out the front door.
“What if my parents couldn’t get her to stop crying? What if she refused to take a bottle from them?” I worried.
My daughter was just 2 weeks old, and I was a wreck about leaving her with anyone, especially my parents.
Two hours later, when I returned, my mother held up an almost empty bottle—something I hadn’t yet been able to achieve. The baby slept quietly in her bassinet.

Then it dawned on me: My mother had raised five children of her own, so it shouldn’t have come as a shock to me that she could handle—even pacify—a squalling newborn.
Whether or not they are the parents’ first choice, grandparents are being utilized as child care providers with increasing regularity. And, while each family’s experience differs, recent evidence shows that, generally, grandparents make first-rate babysitters.

All in the Family

The prevalence of grandparents as child care providers may surprise you. Grandparents routinely provide child care for almost a quarter of children under the age of 5, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For some populations, that percentage is even higher—grandparents care for 34 percent of children who live alone with their dads and for 38 percent of Hispanic preschoolers.

The amount of time grandparents spend providing child care varies, from a few hours each week to more than 30 hours per week, according to a 2001 study published in the journal The Gerontologist.
Now, with the downturn in the economy, grandparents are spending more time than ever with their grandchildren.
The National Association of Child Care Resource & Referral Agencies released a poll of 500 grandparents in August 2008, which found that 40 percent of those who live near their grandchildren regularly act as their child care providers.

In addition, in October 2008, one website survey reported that 12 percent of more than 100 respondents (all parents) planned to reduce or eliminate paid child care, citing economic reasons. Many parents simply can’t afford the cost of child care or nannies, but still need someone to watch their children when they go to work. That leaves these parents turning to an option they might not have considered before—grandparents.

Doing It Right

Evidence shows that not only is a hefty proportion of grandparents caring for their grandchildren, but that overall they’re doing a really good job. In fact, one new study reports that young children are safer in the hands of their grandmothers than with anyone else—even their own mothers.

Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that the risk of injury to a child drops 50 percent when a grandmother acts as the care giver, compared to a care giver in an organized child care, another relative, or the child’s mother. Data for the study was collected on more than 5500 newborns from 15 U.S. cities, with follow-up data recorded when the children were between 30 and 33 months of age. Findings were published in the November 2008 issue of Pediatrics.

So, if you are like most jittery first-time parents and doubt that anyone—especially your own mother—is capable of caring for your precious son or daughter, think long and hard before rejecting the notion altogether. She just may turn out to be your favorite “go-to” babysitter of choice. BC

© Baltimore’s Child Inc. January 2009

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