Grandparents and childcare: Long-distance grandmas can do it, too

I must say, I'm one fortunate long-distance grandma. My good fortune—despite the bad fortune of my only two grandsons living 815 miles away—lies in the fact that I get to visit Bubby and Mac at their desert home in just a few weeks.


I just visited them in December.

And in October.

And in August.

Plus, they visited me and the rest of our mountain-dwelling family in June.

And there were a few times I visited the desert in the early months of the year, as well.

Do I have megabucks that allow me to keep my calendar marked with travel dates to see my grandsons, all to keep my heart from breaking over living so far away from them.

Not at all. In fact, this past year has been particularly challenging for me, in terms of finances.

It's been a good year for my daughter and son-in-law, though. Good in terms of finances because Megan went back to full-time work, and Preston is rocking the financial-advising world. Which translates to a good year for me because all their time committed to work means they need someone to babysit my grandsons.

Bubby and Mac do have their daily childcare needs met by an in-home provider—at their home—thanks to their great Aunt Katie, Preston's aunt. She watches Mac every day and Bubby every day that he's not at his two-mornings-a-week preschool. There are times, though, that Megan and Preston need the boys covered for 24/7 stints Aunt Katie can't cover.

And that's where I come in.

The reason I get to see my adorable grandsons far more often than the average grandma-bear might get to see her grandbears is because I come in pretty handy as a fill-in childcare provider. On Megan and Preston's dime.

As working parents, Megan and Preston have daycare built into their budget. And if anyone reading this knows anything about childcare costs nowadays, it ain't cheap. Gramma, though, does come cheap. At least not any more expensive to fly me there for a week and back home again than the cost typically paid for a week's worth of childcare.

A week of childcare with built-in Gramma time for the boys, all for one low price of plane fare.

Who wins in that scenario? All of us! I win. My grandsons win. Megan and Preston win.

As I added dates for my upcoming desert trip to my new 2013 calendar, I considered how grateful and how lucky I am, and thought that maybe other long-distance grandmas could be just as lucky, if only they took a chance and asked the parents of their grandkids to consider a similar arrangement.

Long-distance grandmas: Ask! Ask if you can help out with childcare for your grandchildren. And ask if they'll foot the bill to fly you to their home to do just that. Then you and your loved ones can win, too.

I'm definitely not the only grandma to do this. In fact, many years before I reached grandma status, I learned a former boss of mine had retired when her first grandbaby arrived and was traveling from Colorado to Chicago on alternating weeks to help cover childcare. Childcare is expensive; the manner in which parents now handle the juggling of it is far different from what we may remember from our own days of raising children while being employed.

Of course there are a few caveats:

  • Some childcare arrangements require the parents to pay for days the child won't be attending, so don't be offended if your offer of services is turned down for financial reasons.
  • It's likely only economically advantageous if you cover the childcare for a week. This could be for a week jam-packed with appointments and events for Mom and Dad, who wouldn't be leaving town, just busy. (I've covered such times). Or it could be a week in which Mom and Dad need to be out of town, be it for a conference or possibly even a regular ol' kid-free vacation for the parents. (I've covered even more of those times.)
  • And it's likely only comparable to the cost of their regular childcare if reasonable airfare can be arranged.
  • Also likely: The arrangement requires the traveling grandma to be self-employed or retired...or willing to use her paid time off from her regular job for the childcare stint.
  • A week as the sole childcare provider can be exhausting, especially for long-distance grandmas who don't care for kids often.

The bottom line: Childcare is a huge expense for families with young children, and that expense may be a bit more palatable if they can fit in some grandma time for the grandkids on that same tab, too.

It's worth asking. Trust me.

Today's question:

What was your childcare arrangement when your kids were young?