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Family Caretakers

By Helen Zelon for Your Baby Today

Whether you're headed back to work, the gym, or grad school, you need help taking care of baby.  Welcome to the complex world of caregiving.

Caregiving spans a huge range, from occasional teen sitters to live-in nannies with formal contracts (and worker's comp). And lots of families tread the middle ground, relying on extended family for help. 

 "It's one of the most wonderful gifts a relative can give," says Marsha Blank, MSW, who runs parenting workshops in New York. "Everyone benefits, as long as there's a feeling of love and respect."  But well-meaning family members may have ideas that don't mesh with yours.  Here's how to handle caregivers who do things you just wouldn't.

Communicate your wishes.  Some of your parenting choices might feel unfamiliar to your parents - or your in-laws.  Negotiating the differences can be awkward if grandparents feel rejected by your criticisms. To balance things out, remind them how much you appreciate their help.  Thank them for respecting your choices.  Gratitude is a powerful motivation.  

Give clear directions. If your baby's on a schedule, write it down.  Try not to get hung up on timing - apple juice at 10:30 tastes as good as it does at 10:15. Instead, give Grandma a sense of the ebb and flow of the day. Don't worry about micromanaging. Structure is great where babies are concerned; Grandma will be glad to know what comes next.

Review your expectations in advance.  If baby needs a meal while you're out, make sure Grandpa knows which foods she most enjoys.  Take plenty of time to go over the basics:  how to prep formula or thaw breast milk, how to warm food jars or baby's meals in the microwave.  Be sure to leave prepared meals if you're raising a vegetarian and Uncle Ted's a lifelong carnivore, and especially if your child is allergic or has food sensitivities.

Comfort and discipline.  You pick baby up whenever he cries, feed him when he's hungry. Your parents say you're spoiling their beloved grandchild. Try to filter out 'free' advice without getting defensive. Use humor to defuse emotional situations, and look for less-stressful times to explore tough issues. Even though Auntie Sarah may not agree, she can learn to respect your choices.  You're the parent. How you feed, comfort, and discipline your baby is up to you. 

Call in the cavalry.  Enlist help from your partner. Plan how you'll respond to potential conflicts with family caretakers.  When expressing your wishes, speak with one voice and back each other up.

Let go -- a little.  If there was ever a time to choose your battles, this is it. You can't fight every conflict.  Pick the issues that matter most and let the smaller things slide. Try to make caregiving easy on baby and Grandma and aim for a pleasant, positive experience.

Make room. The late Princess Grace of Monaco famously said that the separation between mother and child begins when the umbilical cord is cut. While your connection to your child may be the most vivid bond of your life, remember that he needs and deserves independent relationships with all the adults who love and care for him. 

Learning to lean on extended family helps you, but it also helps your child learn to connect with and trust the wider world. As he plays, explores, and builds loving relationships, he's mastering the emotional vocabulary he will need for future childhood friendships, as well as for adult relationships.  And you thought you were getting a simple night out! 

The content on these pages is provided as general information only and should not be substituted for the advice of your physician.
© Studio One Networks

Categories: Babies, Toddlers, Family,

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