Free Childcare From Family Is Never 'Free'

by Maria Guido

A question was posed to Dear Prudie this week that speaks to the issues that arise when a family member is watching your kids “for free.” The question was about dietary preferences, but it can really be extrapolated to anything. The fundamentals of the question are: 1) can I request certain things from my free childcare, and 2) how do I go about requesting certain things from my free childcare? The answers to those questions are “no” and “you don’t.”

Here’s the question that was posed to Prudie:

“I have gone to back to work recently, and my mother-in-law offered to pick up and watch my elementary-age kids since her stepkids go to the adjoining middle school… This would be a godsend (and save us thousands of dollars in day care) except my mother-in-law refuses to feed my kids according to our principles (vegan and healthy). She told me if it wasn’t something that could kill them, she wasn’t going to go out of her way and she had too many kids running around to make “special” snacks… my husband just shrugs and says “take it or leave it” has always been his mother’s way. I am ready to tear my hair out by the roots. Help.”

When you pay someone to take care of your children — you call the shots. You get to say, “He doesn’t eat this” and “He can’t play with that.” When you rely on someone — especially a mother or mother-in-law — you may find yourself banging your head against the wall. That’s your problem.

I say “that’s your problem” with a huge amount of empathy, trust me. My mother watched my daughter for a couple years. It was not fun. Any financial relief I gained was replaced by frustration with the fact that she refused to say “no” to my daughter or follow any of the simple directives I gave her. It was annoying, but I couldn’t afford daycare for both children and felt my older son would benefit from it more at the time. So — those were the breaks. I was lucky enough to have the help and had to just deal with my frustrations my own way — usually with a giant vat of wine at the end of the week.

It seems like the woman above’s problems could be easily rectified if she just dropped off her perfectly vegan, healthy snacks with her kid. She should make her own special snacks, pack them, and give them to her mother-in-law to feed her child throughout the day.

There’s nothing wrong with becoming frustrated with a situation that isn’t going the way you’d like. But you have to step back, realize you’re lucky, bitch to your friends, shut your mouth when you are around your mother-in-law, and thank your lucky stars for free childcare.

Or, you can pay for it and call the shots. You can’t have your vegan cake and eat it, too.