My Daughter Expects Me to Babysit Her Kid for Free. How Do I Say No?

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  • For Love & Money is a biweekly column from Insider answering your relationship and money questions.
  • This week, a reader feels pressured to be a free babysitter for her upcoming grandchild.
  • Our columnist says she’s not obligated to help, but to not forget she’s still her daughter’s mom.
  • Got a question for our columnist? Write to For Love & Money using this Google form.

Dear For Love & Money,

I am a 64-year-old retired teacher and a mother of four. My oldest daughter is pregnant. Recently, she and my son-in-law have mentioned date nights and all the “grandma time” they expect me to want to have with the baby once it’s born.

My biggest concern, however, is that my daughter intends to keep working after the baby comes, and as far as I know, she’s made no plans to pay for childcare. She hasn’t asked yet, but based on her comments about how much time I will want to spend with my grandchild and how expensive childcare is these days, I can tell she expects me to at least babysit often enough to mitigate the cost of full-time childcare.

Of course, I am excited to meet my first grandchild, and I will want to spend time with my daughter’s baby. But I just retired a couple of years ago, and am getting old and tired. I already put my time in! I raised four kids and educated hundreds more. I also know that my daughter and her husband can easily pay for childcare, and if nothing else, he makes enough money for her to stay home with her baby for a few years.

How do I tell her that I won’t be providing free child care? She chose to have this baby, and while I look forward to loving my grandbaby, her choice isn’t my financial responsibility; it’s hers.



Dear Grandma-Under-Pressure,

Congratulations on your grandbaby! What an exciting time. And while I know you are concerned over things you and your daughter have to work out in the coming months, I want to encourage you not to lose sight of how joyful this time really is.

No matter how excited you feel, however, I don’t think you should open your home as a full-time daycare center if that isn’t something you want to do. As you said, you put your time in. You did this thing four times, and now you’ve graduated to the best part — the part where you get to play and bond and spoil and witness your legacy in action.

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And you get to have all of those things without the hard parts — keeping a running journal of baby’s bowel movements, long sleepless nights spent monitoring a cough that might turn into a 2 a.m. trip to the emergency room visit, having a 4-year-old look you dead in the eye while they tell how much they hate you.

Now it’s your daughter’s turn for all of those things, but because of your experience, you are better positioned than anyone else in the world to support her and her husband. They’re going to need you. That will be especially true at first, when the experts kick your daughter out of the hospital with a halfhearted car seat check, a gigantic plastic water tumbler, and nothing in the way of actual guidance.

This is why grandparents have responsibilities too. Because they’re still parents. You mentioned that your daughter chose to have this baby, thus making the baby her and her husband’s sole responsibility. Financially, this is true, although I don’t think it is helpful to speculate on what your daughter and her husband can afford.

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But from a value standpoint, I’d like to remind you of a similar choice you made years ago when you chose to have kids — kids you surely realized might have kids of their own one day. You chose to start a family. Grandchildren were always the possible, even probable, outcome of that choice.

Our culture in the United States tends to see life as a checklist: college, career, marriage, mortgage, babies, and so forth. And we can check items like college off our list, but parenthood doesn’t work that way, which is what makes it such a monumental choice. A choice, Grandma-Under-Pressure, that you made.

This doesn’t mean you are required to become your daughter’s unpaid daycare provider. You mention that you recently retired, a break that, after years of teaching children, I am sure you not only earned but badly need. If your daughter doesn’t recognize this, don’t feel guilty for explaining it to her.

But I wonder if she doesn’t already know. I think it’s very significant that she hasn’t already asked you to provide her with full-time childcare. Most people make their childcare plans well ahead of their due date. There’s a good chance she hasn’t asked because she doesn’t expect you to do it, and those comments she’s made about you spending time with your grandchild, allowing her and her husband to have date nights, are likely just about date nights. This is another service that you’re not obligated to provide, but I would caution you to think about what you’d be rejecting by saying no.

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Most children grow up hearing their parents daydream about future grandchildren. It might be as small as deliberating over their donation pile because “it might be nice to keep those books for the grandkids someday,” or as large as frequently asking their adult children “When are you going to give me grandbabies?”

Growing up with these expectations tends to set expectations. Chances are, your daughter is excited and proud to give you your first grandchild. And when we give our loved ones a gift, we all hope it’s received with enthusiasm. I suspect that is the true motivation behind her comments. She is trying to tell you what she hopes you’ll tell her — that you can hardly wait to love her baby.

So take your rest. Enjoy retirement. And remember that whether or not she asks, what your daughter needs right now isn’t for you to become her daycare provider; she simply needs her mom.

Rooting for your new family,

For Love & Money

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