Granny Nannies Have a Special Calling

By Marsha A. Temlock

Seniors who move in with their children take care of their grandkidsSara R. is a professional editor whose services are always in demand. By 5 a.m. you will find her at her computer, but her “real” job begins around 7 when Hannah, her 2-year-old granddaughter, calls for “Me-Ma.”

When Hannah was born Sara’s daughter suggested she move to Connecticut so she could take care of the infant when her daughter went back to work. Sara was nervous about making a commitment. “But once I got used to the idea, I realized this is what I wanted to do,” she says.

According to the latest research, (AARP Bulletin Today, Feb. 2, 2009), Sara is one of the 6.2 per million grandparents who have moved in with their adult children. As a member of the household, seniors are likely to assume the taxing and rewarding responsibility of caring for their grandkids either full or part time.

The Granny Nanny Phenomenon

Obligation is not necessarily the reason grandparents are willing to pitch in. The economic downturn has contributed to the increase in multigenerational households. This arrangement allows working parents to cut down on costly daycare while seniors save on rent.

Certainly there are advantages on both sides when the caregiver is a loving grandparent who has her grandchildren’s best interests at heart. But let’s face it—the job is not for everyone. Granny nannies report many hurdles. Unless the roles and expectations are clear-cut, there are bound to be problems.

Here are some tips should you decide to apply for the job:

Be Realistic

The kids’ needs come first. Sacrifices have to be made. In the example above, Sara has learned to sandwich her work and social engagements around Hannah’s schedule. It means going backwards to the time you were raising your own children. Only times have changed and you have been out of the loop.

Your Need for Privacy

Sara is fortunate that her children can offer her separate living accommodations. At the end of the day, she shuts the door and her daughter and son-in-law take over. “There is no question that my kids want me to be a part of their life, but I explained I need my own space,” she says. It is important to carve out some area in the house that you can call your own when you are sharing living quarters.

Establish Boundaries

It is easy to fall into the pattern of being too available and become resentful if you are doing too much. Define tasks and set limits. Will your responsibilities include shopping and meal preparation? Sue G. has been a granny nanny for nine years. She has cared for her three grandchildren since infancy. “Everyone knows my evenings and weekends are my own. When there is a special occasion, I expect my son and daughter-in-law to give me plenty of notice so I can adjust my plans,” she says.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

A grandparent who assumes responsibility for a grandchild is accountable to the parents. She has to know their rules and try to abide by them. “It’s not the same as when you had your own children and you laid down the law. Discipline can be a problem if parents and grandparent are not on the same page,” Sue explains. “Trust is a biggie. I told my kids, ‘Look I ‘m always with the children. I need to have some authority and I need you to back me up.’”

Networking to Avoid Loneliness

Older caregivers who take care of young children often complain about social isolation. They spend much of their time alone or with much younger parents who have very different ideas about child rearing. One solution is to join a senior caregiver support group; another is connecting with other granny nannies on websites like

Staying in Good Shape

Sara has a back problem that she admits has been exacerbated by lifting Hannah and her gear in and out of the car, yet she chuckles about her son-in-law’s gift for Mother’s Day: Five sessions with a masseuse. It can be exhausting watching children all day. When it becomes too much, call in the troops and ask for time off.

Divided Loyalties

Today’s seniors are healthier, living longer and leading very active lives. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are more multi-generations than ever before. As a result, the granny nanny may find herself part of the “club sandwich generation,” i.e., living with grown children and responsible for grandkids.

Without doubt, it is difficult to do it all. But according to women like Sue and Sara who have opted to become granny nannies, this is the most important thing they are doing with their lives. “It’s my joy,” exclaims Sara. “I do this for me,” Sue chimes in.

Marsha A. Temlock, M.A., writes about family relationships. She is the author of “Your Child’s Divorce: What to Expect… What You Can Do” (Impact Publishers).

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