Using a relative for childcare

Grandmother and granddaughter baking together

If you have a relative willing to provide some childcare, then consider yourself very lucky. But before you bite their hand off, remember they may not do everything exactly as you would, so think about it all carefully and be prepared for some frank discussions before you begin.

What are the pros and cons of using a relative for childcare?

Having a family member as your childcare has its obvious perks: you get to leave your baby with someone you already trust – and often, it’s free, too.

You can't, of course, look up Granny or Granddad's Ofsted report, demand a CRB check, or expect that they'll do everything exactly as you want them to, however. And drawing up an extensive manual for your mum or mother-in-law may well be seen as a little insulting. This is where tact (and an occasional degree of tongue-biting) comes into play – but do bear in mind that they brought you up, so their child-rearing skills must be reasonable, at least.

Asking crucial questions and having a frank discussion before you both agree to go ahead with the arrangement will give it the best chance of working well.

  • Are they happy to parent in a broadly similar way to you?
  • Will they enforce a similar diet and discipline?
  • Or, if not, are you happy to live with the differences?
    If the whole thing is going to cause animosity and tension, this might not be the best childcare option for you. In a worst-case scenario, if you and the relative clash badly over something, you could end up not only having fallen out with your nearest and dearest but also with a childcare crisis on your hands.

It’s also worth thinking about practicalities:

  • Will they be expecting payment or costs covered and how much?
  • Would they have the child at your house or theirs?
  • What will happen if they are ill?
  • Will they be prepared to still do childcare if your child is ill?
  • How much notice will they give you if they want to change or stop the arrangement?

If you go ahead, you might also want to consider making it a more part-time arrangement. If a relative is doing close to full-time childcare, then realistically it's going to be difficult for you to make requests assertively – but for a day a week, it's less of an issue, or you might feel that for one day a week you’re happy to let a few things go for the benefit of your child having someone who cares for them as much as you do looking after them. A day a week is a lovely arrangement and one that I think would hugely benefit any child (who gets bonding time with Granny), grandparent (who gets bonding time with her grandchild) and parent (saves you a bit of dough).

If you discuss it all thoroughly and your relative decides they don’t want to go ahead, try not to take it personally. They may have very sound reasons – perhaps preferring that time with your child is kept ‘special’, rather than a weekly occurrence, or maybe they just feel in retrospect their child-rearing days are done. Whatever their reasoning, this is not an arrangement you want to enter into unless both parties are completely happy, so it’s far better to be upfront from the outset.

  • “Even when it is only one day a week, the relationship between grandmother and grandchild changes when it is a regular care situation and I can understand her not wanting that to change.”
  • “My parents do a lot for us – babysit at our place, have our daughter overnight, have her on odd days that I go on courses when I'd normally be off work. But they will NOT (and I wouldn't ask them to) commit to a regular arrangement, as long as we would be reliant on it. They're retired, they have other things to do, people to see and holidays to go on.”

Can I pay a relative to care for my child?

You are allowed to pay a family member to look after your child in your own or your relative’s home without them being registered as a childminder. But remember, if you’re considering having a friend to look after your baby (in their own home), for it to be a legal arrangement, they must be registered.