The final chapter in my book Planes, Canes, and Automobiles: Connecting with Your Aging Parents Through Travel (publish date 10/6/15) compiles survey results from seniors who answered questions about how to survive (and thrive!) while traveling with their adult children. It was incredibly inspiring while also highlighting several challenges that can arise. Case in point: Edith from North Carolina complained that her daughter always assumes she will babysit the grandkids while they’re on vacation together and that Edith will pay for most of the expenses. In a previous blog, I tackled discussing financial matters before you hit the road. Now, let’s discuss babysitting duties and if it’s reasonable to expect grandparents to babysit (regardless of who’s paying for the vacation).
First off, understand that you’re on vacation – the point is to relax, see new sites, have a few cocktails, eat different foods and have someone else clean the dishes when you’re done. Babysitting on the other hand is a j-o-b job, services which most parents typically have to pay for in exchange for watching the children. Now, perhaps the grandparents are the babysitters back in the real world (and you may or may not pay them for their services), but again, you’re all on vacation and that time is supposed to be for relaxing (amongst other things) for everyone. They aren’t young and full of energy like the people who choose to become Cultural Care Au Pair, they’re ageing and need a rest just as much (if not more) than you.
Is it reasonable to expect the grandparents to watch the kids for extended periods if you’re paying for the vacation? Not without having a conversation before you go to clarify expectations. Do not assume your parents should automatically babysit. When discussing with your parents, be specific on how much time you would like them to assist. Are you taking one afternoon to explore or are you expecting your parents to babysit on a daily basis? Those are wildly different parameters and your parents may be up for the occasional request vs. for more extensive time periods.
Also understand that as people age, it can be more taxing to run after little ones, so asking a grandparent to babysit will be more exhausting for them. As an example, it takes my 84-year old mother a week to recover after a quick two day visit from her twin 3 ½ year old granddaughters (and my brother asks nothing of mom while visiting!). It’s just more exhausting as you get older.
So before you go, discuss with your parents what payment you can offer them (beyond the joy and fun of spending quality time with their grandchildren, of course!) for looking after your kids. And if they’re not up for babysitting, it’s certainly better to know that beforehand so you can make other arrangements and more importantly, avoid any hard feelings on the trip.
As a final thought, if you’re the grandparent and you think your child may dump the kiddies on you without asking, bring it up yourself. As I previously mentioned, it’s better to know before you go so you can opt to pass (or at least know what you’re getting into). Be brave and broach the subject yourself!