Friday, March 27, 2009

Paying grandma for babysitting?

Lately I've been giving this article about paying grandparents for childcare some thought. When we first came to Japan last fall, I thought we'd be lucky because we'd be living near family members (i.e. with my MIL and FIL and next door to other relatives) and that we'd be getting some childcare. I think I was under the impression that since they basically asked us to come here to help out while my FIL was unable to do his regular farm work and because my MIL was really worried about maintaining the family household here in Japan, that we'd be getting support.

After all, we're the ones who had to uproot our family and move halfway across the world. This move came after they gave us their blessing at our marriage 3+ years ago to live in the US and care for my parents as they age. My husband, being the eldest son in the family was essentially freed by this and we thought it worked out nicely. We figured my brother-in-law (5 years younger than my husband) could care for my parents-in-law especially since BIL lives 15 minutes from here. My sister and her husband will likely have to help out his divorced parents one day, thereby doubling the responsibility they've got. My parents are perfectly able to live on their own right now, but it gave me some peace of mind to know that I could be there for them one day. (And we assumed we'd help out if my in-laws needed anything, we just didn't think we'd live here long-term.) Sounded great. Meanwhile, we were living in Seattle, "halfway" between Gboy's family in Japan and my family on the East Coast of the US. No family had a monopoly on us.

By the time we leave Japan this summer, Peanut will have lived half her life here and just about every day of her time in Japan will have been lived with her Japanese grandparents. My parents, who waited years for their first grandchild (Peanut) are surely disappointed that they don't get to be the grandparents she lives with. The fact that we're thousands of miles away and 17+ hours by plane makes travel quite hard for them. Since they'd be able to see us more if we still lived in Seattle, this has certainly cut into their grandchild time. Taking all of this into consideration, it's occurring to me that maybe I'm somewhat resentful of our time here. On the one hand, I love it, and think it's priceless for Peanut. On the other hand, I feel like my in-laws kind of owe us and should be thankful we've given them so much access to their granddaughter (their 3rd grandchild of 4) especially at my parents' expense (Peanut is their only grandchild thus far).

Yet childcare has been infrequent to say the least. My FIL is useless in that regard and my MIL has been too busy working part-time, visiting with friends, hiking, and otherwise pursuing her own hobbies. When childcare does happen, it's generally for approximately 2 hours and it looks more like something they need to do in addition to the weeding or housework, etc. My parents in the little time they get to spend with Peanut, play with her like crazy. Hug her, love her. It doesn't show up that way with my in-laws and while some of it may be cultural (i.e. aversion to showing too much affection) some of it is likely just this family. I get that. But it makes me sad and a little angry to feel like we've sacrificed so much and getting a couple of hours of baby-sitting is so hard to come by.

Do I think I should pay Peanut's grandparents for childcare? I can't see my parents ever accepting money for the pleasure of spending time with their granddaughter. Maybe it would be different if they had 12 grand kids, but they don't. Anyway, I see the point of offering my in-laws some kind of payment, but frankly feel like I'm owed more than that. I hate to sound spoiled and entitled, but I think the resentment is greater than I had realized and this is how it manifests itself.

I'm so curious to hear the thoughts of others about reimbursing grandparents for childcare (both from those of you with Japanese in-laws and those of you without Japanese in-laws).


  1. Interesting questions and issues. here's my take, for what's it's worth, but every situation is different, this is just from my perspective and observations of people I know. I think if grandparents provide significant child care while parents are working, payment may be in order and appreciated, as they are really scaraficing a lot of their time as a daily caregiver. If you are talking about 12 hours a week or something of that nature, spread out over the entire week, it seems like paying isn't really necessary.

  2. There is no WAY my parents would accept payment for watching Bean. In fact, they joke that they would pay US for being able to watch him.

    That being said, my parents are financially comfortable, and I am not working. Perhaps if I was making big bucks and my mom watched Bean while I was working, they might be cajoled into accepting money for babysitting.

    But I highly doubt it. I imagine it would make them sick to think of taking our money. That's what parents do, in their mind... they care for their children and grandchild. It comes with the title.

    (Oh, and thanks for the nice message on my new blog.) :)

  3. I would pay my father if he was to watch my children on a regualr basis. I doubt he would accept it, but I would offer it. I think if it was just a few hours here and there, you shouldn't pay. It time spent with the grandchild, that's a payment in itself. I would be frustrated, as well.

  4. You all make a good point. I'm not talking about full-time 40+ hour a week childcare. I'm probably not even talking about halftime. I'm thinking more about the 12 hours (at most) spread out over the week. And here's why: I'd really like to learn Japanese if I'm going to stay here (seems like that's in the grandparents' interest too if they want us to stay) and for that I need to go out for class a couple of times a week. Beyond that, I'm taking a calligraphy class (at their suggestion) and providing English conversation "instruction" to some of my MIL's friends (at her request). Doing these things means I need a little help with Peanut. If my husband is helping his father with the farm it's hard for him to babysit. And when he's not on the farm, ideally he'd like to devote some time to starting his business but that's very difficult with Peanut running around.... Oh and the occasional date (maybe twice a month?) wouldn't be so bad either. So we'd love to have some help with the childcare. Right now, he and I are doing it almost exclusively. MIL kindly offers to babysit for an hour or two just about once a month so that GBoy and I can have a lunch date. *sigh* But that's not going very far. Hopefully now that MIL is officially retired (she was working part-time so I really should have been more clear that I don't expect her to work AND be my personal childcare provider in all her free time) things might be a little different. It's just that since there has been very little "Gosh it's such a pleasure for us to spend time with Peanut- we'd pay you to let us have her for a while!" up until now, I'm finding it hard to imagine that there will be an ocean of difference all of a sudden.

  5. Wow, what a great discussion. I think there are a couple of points here
    * while you're doing classes your MIL recommended or teaching her friends I think babysitting should be part of the deal. To me that's what you need to do what she wants.
    *Japanese classes- as you say this would help you here and I would do the (teeth suck) Gee, I found this FABULOUS Japanese class and I'd REALLY like to go. I think it would help us communicate more, ne? But what to do with Peanut.....
    *A lot of people I know have grandma look after the kids but it's usually mum's mum on a kids are mum's responsibility and mum asks her mum to help kind of deal. Obviously this is impossible for you right now but your MIl might not be thinking this through. Maybe a few hints 'gee, I miss my mum. It was so great knowing I always had someone there if I needed someone to look after peanut.' Maybe even suggest putting peanut in daycare while you're studying? sure to get results!
    * I think offering payment would go down like a lead balloon but that ' I saw these grapes/ cakes/ new yoghurt drinks/ (insert random food item) at the shop and thought you might like them' thing would express the gratitude nicely.

    As for me? If someone is looking after my kids while I make money I consider it fair to share the loot. My parents are both pensioners and I often take my mum out for coffee/ lunch to say thanks (with the girls, she's crazy enough to like eating out with preschoolers!) MIL I do the sweets thing I mentioned above.

    And I totally understand your feelings that they owe you but I wonder if they see it that way. Gboy is their son and heir. Even if he lives in Seattle the smooth running of the family property is to his benifit and therefore helping out (even at the cost of uprooting his family) is atarimae. (natural? to be expected?) This happened in DHs cousins family when Grandpa had a stroke. The cousin gave up a highflying Tokyo job to farm peaches and noone felt sorry for him but me!

    Sorry this is getting booklike!

  6. Hmmm. Don't know that I can offer more than thefukases did. But, I hear your frustration. I think hubby and I have had coffee alone, twice this year so far.

  7. Hmmm...I can't imagine it, and nobody would take it. But if it were a regular thing and a SIL or something, maybe.

    This is one reason I love our babysitter. Don't have to worry about this kind of thing.

  8. I totally understand the feeling of frustration when these things on't go as we expected. Before I fell pregnant, Cowboy's Mum often said that when she got her first grandchild, she would give up work to babysit. I don't think I would have let her do it full time, but maybe one or two days per week would have been nice. Anyway, that didn't happen and I do sometimes feel like they owe us. She clearly does too, as she often spends lots of money on Champ (clothes, music lessons, toys). Maybe she would have done that regardless, but I think it might be a bit of guilt too.

    Shouldn't complain though as FIL actually picks Champ up from daycare which saves us rushing back from work and gives them some bonding time which they both adore!

    Also, over the summer when the daycare closed after Christmas, my Mum and FIL took turns in having Champ for the day while we were at work. I didn't feel that it was appropriate to offer money, however I always left some lunch for them and gave them a little thank you present when the 2 weeks were over.

    I think that a little gift, or cooking a meal for them, etc would be a nice way to show them that you appreciate them having Peanut for a while.

  9. My MIL watched our daughter while I worked part time (2 days a week, every other week). She would have done it for free, but since I would drop the baby off on Sunday night and pick her up on Tuesday night, my husband and I felt some compensation was definitely in order.

    I don't think it's unreasonable to ask for help when they asked you to move thousands of miles to help them. Good luck.

    And, Happy Birthday (here from LFCA).

  10. I paid MIL a bit when she was taking care of the boys full time while I worked or played tennis, but not after they went to school and it was just part time. Also PIL have more than paid us back in many ways.