Beyond Babysitting

Nature Grandparenting

Does the term ‘babysitting’ serve much purpose in describing what you do with your grandkin? Perhaps for the rare occasion where the parent(s) are out and the kiddos are tucked soundly in bed. It could also apply when tending to a sickly, bed-bound child. Either way, the term conveys a caregiver offering a sedentary service to a dormant little darling. How often does that happen?

The term 'babysitt'ing' must be old as the hills, right? After a little digging this Gen X-er was surprised to learn 'babysitting' only became a household term in the 1950's alongside 'suburb' and 'baby boomer.'  


 The article History of Babysitting asks the question, "Why didn't your great-great grandma babysit people?" The answer is fascinating:

Nature Grandparenting

The suburb life stayed and so did babysitting.  It's useful to realize babysitting was, and still is, a stop-gap solution to fill the void left by having fewer caregivers involved in the home.

Even if you have no desire of moving in with them, 'babysitting' does a poor job of describing your role in your grandchild's life. Consider this: If your grandchild's life were a movie, you would be an original character in the cast, whereas babysitters are temporary, stand-in extras. Clearly, naming the childcare work you do 'babysitting' doesn't speak to your life experience and long-term involvement in your grandchild's life. 

Time to bust out a new 'job title' - one that recognizes your continued intentional participation in their healthy growth and development. How about:

Family-Based Early Childhood Experiential Learning Facilitator.

Rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

According to the Canadian Institute of Child Health, early childhood experiences “determine brain structure, thus shaping the way people learn, think and behave for the rest of their lives.” If you want to achieve maximum returns for the energy hours you invest, nurturing your grandchild's growth and development is it!  

Research compiled by the Early Childhood Development Mapping Project reports on the specific positive outcomes from investing in early childhood:

"The benefits of investing in the early years extends far beyond the individual child and family. Giving children a good start in life strengthens our communities and our economy. Studies in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere report that supporting positive early development is a solid investment that can reap tangible economic benefits many times the value of the original input — anywhere from seven to 16 per cent a year"

Unlike early childhood learning centres and pre-schools with ratios of 1:5 for toddlers and 1:10 for preschoolers,  many grandparents are in a position to offer 1:1 to 1:3 learning experiences, depending on the number of grandkids in their care. This lower ratio affords more attention and experiences tailored to each child’s age and interests. 

You already knew this at an intuitive level, right? You notice the way your grandchild follows her curiosity and makes connections when you are together. "The outside world is experienced through the senses- seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting – enabling the brain to create or modify connections” (Canadian Institute of Child Health).

Children need caring adults like you in their lives to help facilitate these sensory learning experiences. Author, and environmental activist Rachel Carson believed "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder... he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in. " Nature Grandparents, she's talking to you!

Tuck these affirmations of the important educational contributions you make to your grandchild's growth and development into your backpack.  And the next time you're asked to 'babysit' you can scoff:

Babysitting, shmabysitting! That's for teenagers.

I grandparent.


This post was made possible with the generous grandparenting contributions of my parents. Thanks Mom and Dad!