Updated: May 1, 2013 1:52PM
My 5-year-old son’s preschool lets out at 10:45 a.m. The cast of characters waiting for children as they come bolting out the door includes stay-at-home parents, nannies and grandparents.
I’ve come to know many of these folks, chatting as we wait for the steel doors to open. It’s the grandparents I often find interesting. They’ve already raised one set of children and now they’re helping the next generation — usually for free.
I spoke last week with several grandparents who regularly care for their grandchildren. They may not get to spoil the kids as much as they’d like, but the trade-off is a strong bond that’s forged through frequent and meaningful interaction.
Grandparents have long provided childcare, but a weak economy tends to push more of them back into the familiar role, said Katie Bugbee, global managing editor of Care.com. The website matches customers with service providers, such as parents with nannies, dog owners with dog walkers, students with tutors and more.
Grandparents who assist with raising children tend to have positive experiences. However, the situation can present challenges. The key is having clear and open communication between a child’s parents and grandparents, Bugbee said.
“I think you really need to have a sit-down conversation asking if (the grandparents) are on board for this or that,” Bugbee said.
For some parents that means sticking to a routine of avoiding junk food or having a strict nap policy. Adherence to such guidelines can conflict with a grandparent’s prior parenting practices. Some grandparents may also feel that following the house rules prevents them from appropriately spoiling their grandchildren, Bugbee said.
“You have to be a disciplinarian,” Bugbee said of childcare providers. “You are in charge of time-outs, good behavior and maintaining healthy eating.”
Pat Starcevich, of Chicago’s Morgan Park community, never wanted to be a baby sitter. Though the retired teacher lives only a block away from her two grandchildren, she was determined to remain “the fun grandma.”
“Now, I can’t imagine not being so involved with them,” said Starcevich, who’s been affectionately nicknamed Ya-Ya by her granddaughters — Andi, 7, and Ryann, 4.
Starcevich keeps the girls overnight most Fridays while her daughter works in the emergency room at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park. Starcevich also takes the girls home after school about twice a week. Her availability and proximity to the school made her the obvious candidate for a job she previously resisted.
“I feel like they view me as part of their inner circle,” she said. “I know who their best friends are and if things aren’t going so well.”
Judy Pyne and her husband James drive from their home in Frankfort to Morgan Park to look after two grandchildren on Wednesdays and Thursdays. On Fridays, they wake up at 4:30 a.m., drive to northwest suburban Bartlett and baby-sit their other pair of grandkids.
“I never had grandparents. They were all dead before I was born. So, I vowed to be the best grandparent I could be,” Pyne said.
She feels the hierarchy is clear. Mom and dad make the rules, and grandma and grandpa enforce them.
“We don’t cave. We just don’t,” said Pyne, who’s also a retired teacher.
Spending your retirement baby-sitting isn’t for everyone, she said. But it’s what she always envisioned. “Our common goal is the love and care of these kids,” she said.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.