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Is It Weird That We Pay Grandma to Babysit?

Photograph by Getty Images

If you live in Los Angeles, I don't have to tell you about the exorbitant cost of living. But, of course, all areas of the U.S. are feeling the pinch of the cost of childcare. Even so, having a grandmother be our childcare provider seemed inconceivable to me, given the potential for flare-ups and disagreements about childrearing that could arise.

Ultimately, though, we decided this would work best for us, given our sometimes unpredictable works schedules. When I returned to work after our son turned 1, we asked my mother if she would agree to watch our son full time.

She accepted our offer.

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To give you some context, it's very common in Latino culture to have grandmothers care for children. My grandmother watched many of her grandchildren. My mother also watched my older sister's daughters for a time, while my sister was still attending school.

What is a bit unconventional about our arrangement is that we pay my mother a monthly salary to care for our son. People have raised eyebrows about our arrangement, saying things like, "Oh, but grandmothers love spending time with their grandchildren. Why would you pay her?"

To me, it seemed inconceivable not to pay her the way we would pay any other provider. I also thought about what not paying her would say about how much we value our son. Helping people raise their children should be one of the most valued professions. Instead, many reports demonstrate that childcare providers are extremely underpaid.

Of course, if money were an issue, I know she would still show up every day to care for him. But we are fortunate enough that we are able to prioritize paying her. We are also covering for the convenience of not having to drop off and pick up our son at a facility, which, given our schedules, is a big factor for us.

Instead, many reports demonstrate that childcare providers are extremely underpaid.

The other reason why my mother's care worked for us is that it was important to us that our child spend time with her. My son's father was very close to his grandmother, and so he wants our son to have that bond. On my end, I actually grew up far away from my grandparents, so I like that they will have had that time together.

The salary, on the other hand, gives us a boundary. We know that weekends are for her to spend time for herself. Paying her a salary also makes me feel more comfortable with asking her to do things a certain way. If we weren't paying her, it would be harder for me to assert myself. This might not be the case for everyone. I know plenty of people who do not pay the grandparents to watch their children, and that is perfectly fine, too. (Again, I know that if for some reason we were suddenly unable to pay, my mother would still provide childcare.)

I have told her that if any time she feels that she no longer can or wants to watch her grandson daily, she is not obligated to. I am lucky that my mother is healthy and agile enough to keep up with a toddler.

We are also mindful of trying not to be home late without notifying her or using her too much on weekends. We are fortunate that we have all of our grandparents and extended family nearby to also help us out.

Essentially, treat it like a business transaction.

I know our arrangement isn't for everyone. Complications inevitably arise, I'll be honest. There's constant back and forth on things, too. Whenever things get challenging, we ask ourselves if the benefits outweigh the detriments.

The arrangement won't last forever—we are already looking into preschools for next year. We want our son to benefit from a more structured environment, especially one with other children his age. Waiting lists are so long that we anticipate September will be the earliest he will be able to enroll.

In the meantime, having Grandma has made our lives easier, and it gave us much needed peace of mind when he was younger.

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If you are considering this arrangement, check with your CPA or tax preparer to make sure you aren't liable for employment taxes. I also recommend that you have clear parameters for the arrangement and that everyone is in agreement about the hours and days, and the care that will occur. Essentially, treat it like a business transaction. If that strikes you as uncomfortable, this might not be the arrangement for you.

But if this sounds like something you might consider, just know that you can make it work as long as everyone is on board.

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