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Parenting expert Jill Spivack speaks out on growing trend of Grandma Baby-sitters, as with Obamas

March 3, 2009

Meet Your New Babysitter: Grandma!

Obama's MIL has moved in ... but millions of other families are also moving in Grandma to help out with child care.  Parenting expert Jill Spivack offers coping strategies.

During President Obama's campaign, daughters Sasha and Malia were cared for by their grandmother, Obama's mother-in-law, 71-year-old Marion Robinson. 

But the Obamas and Grandma don't always see eye to eye. Robinson has often teased her daughter, Michelle Obama, and the president about their household rules for her granddaughters. Bedtime at 8:30 PM? "That's ridiculous," Mrs. Robinson told The Boston Globe last year, suggesting that was too early. Television for only an hour? "That's just not enough time," she said. As for the healthy, organic foods the Obamas favor? "That's not my thing," said Mrs. Robinson, who said she enjoyed salty fried foods and dismissed efforts to make such dishes healthier. "If you're going to have fried chicken," she said, "have fried chicken."

It's not always an easy compromise ... but millions of families are asking Grandma to help out with childcare. So how do you know if this is an arrangement that would work for your family?

Momlogic parenting expert Jill Spivack, M.S.W., appears on the "Today" show this morning to share her top tips.

"The Obamas chose to have Mrs. Robinson move in because the kids, at their stage of development, need stability and family presence in a unique and very difficult transition," Spivack says.

Plus, by having Grandma move in and provide child care, many parents around the country save money and enjoy peace of mind knowing their kids are not being left with a stranger.

How do you deal with different parenting styles now that there are essentially three parents in the home?

"This all starts with consciousness," explains Spivack. "Don't just assume you'll work it out. Wise parents and grandparents talk about the expectations in advance and negotiate the differences."

Here are Spivack's top three ways to minimize conflict:

1. Create a contract: Ideally, before the grandparent becomes the caregiver, you and your spouse need to have a talk about the most important issues regarding the kids and your home life, and put it in writing. Things like bedtime, nutrition, homework, behavior and chores are all big issues that parents need to have the final say in. You and your spouse are entitled to create your identity and rules as a family. Your philosophy is what needs to be followed.

2. Talk with the grandparent about expectations. Start with a positive: Ideally, you'll want to let her know you're very excited about the idea of having her help with the kids because it will give you all the chance to be more involved in each others' lives. You and your spouse would like to chat about some important areas that really matter to you when it comes to the kids and the house so you can all be on the same page and reduce any conflict in the future.

3. Choose your battles. If your kids have two extra cookies or are dressed in a floral romper that you hate one day, so be it. If it isn't a very big deal, let it go. Kids adapt easily to certain things being handled differently -- and as long as they're not the big, important things, that's fine! However, if Grandma wants to drive the kids around without a car seat because she didn't use them in "her day," that's when you must put your foot down. There are non-negotiables that shouldn't be violated!


TIPS (PDF):Jill's tips on what parents and grandparents need to consider.

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