I am a member of a multi-generational family. We currently range in age from toddler to 92 years young. We each have unique needs and gifts, and we try to help each other whenever we can, inshaAllah, God willing.
I am simultaneously a grandmother and a daughter. I am also a parent, but when my children had their own children, the relationship dynamics between us necessarily changed. They now were parents with their own ideas. The boundaries and roles that we had established over years were tested and had to be modified. During this process, both sides had to exercise flexibility and humility. Prayer was key.
Knowing Your Role
When grandparents babysit their grandchildren, we are really taking on two roles. Being a grandparent is the identity that Allah confers upon us when our children give birth, regardless of whether we are actively involved or not, regardless of whether we are wise caregivers or not. Whether we are called Nana, Pop-Pop, Jeddah, or some other name, the role of a grandparent in the family structure will depend on the culture and expectations of the family.
When parents ask Grandma or Grandpa to babysit, however, it is important for both parties to come to a mutual understanding and clarify expectations.
The Role of the Babysitter
Anyone who is expected to care for a child in the absence of the child’s parent is a babysitter. At its most basic level, babysitting involves looking out for the well-being of a child by ensuring his/her safety, comfort, and hygiene. According to the website TalentLyft,1 babysitting may also involve the following specific tasks:
- Preparing meals for the child
- Feeding the child
- Maintaining the child’s health regimen
- Keeping the child (and the environment around the child) safe and clean
- Following the child’s daily schedule
- Organizing and encouraging creative, recreational, or educational activities, such as assisting with homework
- Enforcing nap times
- Transporting the child to and from activities
Occasionally, the babysitter may be tasked with general housekeeping duties, but this must be negotiated between the parent and babysitter. In fact, all expectations should be clearly spelled out and mutually agreed upon.
Although the parent and grandparent may both love the child, they may not agree on how that child should be cared for. In addition, old conflicts and unresolved issues may resurface when both parties are trying to negotiate babysitting expectations. Parents may consider the grandparents' ideas as old-fashioned or not based upon modern science. The grandparents may view the parents' ideas as unsafe or a rejection of tradition. When this occurs, both sides should remember Allah, be patient, and be mindful of the ultimate goal of the babysitting experience - to facilitate the safety and well-being of the child in the parent’s absence.
Parents Must Accept Realities
Ideally, grandparent babysitters represent the best of both worlds - someone who both loves the child and who has accepted the task of watching the child for a brief period. Realistically, no parent is perfect, nor is any grandparent without flaws. Mistakes and misunderstandings will occur.
Often, the grandparent is doing a favor for the parent. As with any act of kindness, courtesy and gratitude are in order. Whether someone has done the favor once or does it daily, gratitude should be shown. It not only lets the person doing the favor know he/she is appreciated, but it is also a way of thanking Allah for His blessings and mercy.
Even if compensation is offered, when a grandparent babysits, he/she, first and foremost, is not an employee per se. The grandparent should still be given the rights and respect of an elder. Their babysitting work is not commensurate with whatever amount you are paying them; you cannot pay for someone to actually love your child. Moreover, the grandparents' rights as your parents and elders supersede other rights. Allah states in the Quran:
“And your Lord has decreed that you do not worship anything except Him, and to parents, (show) good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], “uff,” and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.”
(Surah Al-Isra, 17:23)
Parents should set realistic expectations, recognizing the physical, emotional, and spiritual capacities of the grandparents. They must respect the grandparents' time and schedules. Depending on the age and health of the grandparent, modifications may have to be made.
Even though they may have some limitations, a good grandparent babysitter is valuable for many reasons. Family traditions can be passed on to another generation. Children may learn family culture by helping grandparents prepare traditional meals or crafts. They may hear the family's stories and be exposed to a rich history. Moreover, the child is often already familiar with the grandparent, so the interpersonal learning curve is shorter.
In general, the benefit of grandparents spending quality time with their grandchildren is well-documented. Children who interact with grandparents feel more secure, have a richer understanding of the stages of life, and show higher levels of academic achievement.2
Grandparents Must Accept Change
Times have changed. My grandmother was raised by a formerly enslaved woman. She did not believe in playing with children or even in talking with them much; she raised them for survival. She also used to speak of a time when new mothers were kept in the dark for two weeks because the light was thought to hurt the baby’s eyes. My mother, on the other hand, worked as a nurse’s aide in a hospital pediatric ward. She learned more modern approaches, so she now interacts with her great-grandchildren in a way that is much different from how she was raised. Slowly, she, too, has adapted to new ideas in parenting and interacting with children.
Grandparents have to show respect, gratitude, and humility in babysitting situations. They should respect the choices of the parents, as long as those choices are halal. They must also understand that their children are now adults. Their ideas do not have to mirror the ideas of their parents. Their parenting styles and life choices reflect modern realities. Grandparents have to be grateful for this increase and knowledge. They should also be grateful that their adult children are thinking out their choices, even if they differ from their own.
Grandparents should be humble. Their adult children today have access to more information on child development, parenting techniques, education, discipline, and other issues than they themselves had. They know a lot, but they do not know it all. Allah is The Knower of All Things.
Tips for Parents
Even if one parent is a stay-at-home parent, there may be a time when you will need a babysitter. Be proactive and plan ahead for the babysitting experiences. Strive to:
- Trust in Allah. Remember that He alone determines the success of any effort.
- Start small and gradually. Begin with having the grandparents babysit for short periods of time and while you are not far away. Discuss expectations ahead of time and before a family emergency compels the grandparents to babysit.
- Be flexible. Understand that family routines may be compromised a bit. Sleep schedules may be a little off. Allow grandparents to exercise some discretion.
- Point out any medications or allergy medications.
- Share the name and phone number of a trusted neighbor if they are babysitting in your home.
- Discuss how you normally discipline your children and what you expect the grandparents in this regard.
Tips to Grandparent Babysitters
There are some things grandparents can do to facilitate success, inshaAllah:
- Fear Allah and remember Him often. Remember, you have been placed in this position to assist the family and ensure the well-being of the child.
- Avoid comparing your adult children’s parenting styles.
- Keep trusts. Do not tell others what happens in your adult children’s households.
- Don’t boast about what a terrific parent you were or are.
- Allow the parents to make their own choices and mistakes as long as they are halal. Don't impose your beliefs about parenting upon them.
- If you believe their choices are truly not permissible, offer them nasihah or sound advice with kindness and evidence.
- If you believe their choices are not permissible or are truly detrimental to the child, intervene appropriately after seeking counsel or clarifying possible misinterpreted behaviors.
- Become familiar with child-friendly websites, age-appropriate games, and other recreational materials.
- Brush-up on basic first-aid and CPR techniques.
The relationship between the grandchildren and the grandparent babysitters should be viewed as a sacred trust. Grandparent babysitters can be an asset to a young family, but the parent and grandparents both have to see the benefit. Each side must pray for the other's success so that the child will experience the family, as a whole, working together for his or her benefit and for the pleasure of Allah.
1 Babysitter job description template | TalentLyft
2 Olsen, S. F., Taylor, A. C., & Taylor, K. D. (2000). Intergenerational ties, grandparenting, and extended family support. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 135-141). Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.
Candice “Sister Islaah” Abd’al-Rahim reverted to Islam in 1976. She has deep education credentials which include a M.A. in Teaching, Certificate of Advanced Studies (Post-Masters) in Administration and Supervision, B.S. in English, and experiences as a principal (in fact the first hijab public school principal in Maryland!), curriculum and staff developer, mentor, and classroom teacher of grades pre-K through 12. She is a former adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate School of Education and is a doctoral candidate in Islamic Sciences at the International Online University. Islaah’s contributions to the field have earned her honors in the Who’s Who of Distinguished JHU Alumni. She is wife, daughter, mother, and grandmother and is an active member of several Muslim communities in the Baltimore area
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