Squirreling Gone Wild #25: Grandma’s Side Hustle

You have to love the enthusiasm some grandmas have for their grandchildren. When it comes to a special kind of love and affection, kids can often get it from good ole grandma.  Nothing is too good for her sweet little munchkins. Hello to hugs, kisses, and freshly baked cookies!

Oh, I almost forgot. You can pay her for her time via cash, check, or PayPal.

This 25th edition of Squirreling Gone Wild shares the story about a grandmother who seemingly went from a friendly volunteer to a shrewd businesswoman in a short period of time. Give this grandma an inch, and she’ll take a mile.

Meet Grandma

Grandma is the mother-in-law of one of my friends. She’s apparently been a fairly nice in-law, and a decent low-maintenance grandmother. She loves the kids, but doesn’t get excessively involved. In short, she’s been good to my friend since he’s known her.

The one comment my buddy has made, however, is that in the past she never volunteered to watch the kids or help out too much. If she’s asked to help, she might do so once in a while, though other times she and Grandpa will have excuses as to why they’re busy. They only live 5 minutes away, and Grandma is retired.

Nevertheless, it’s all been good overall. Family relations have been fine.

The Daycare Situation

My friend and his wife (we’ll call them James and Caroline here) are both working full-time, and have two young kids. Until last year, they’ve sent the kids to daycare. However, with the oldest being in school and having a few extracurricular activities now, the situation has changed in terms of logistics. Plus, money has gotten a bit tighter for them. Therefore, they wanted to find a way to cut back on expenses.

Enter Grandma. She volunteered to pick the oldest kid up from school, and care for her in between school getting out and when her daughter – the kids’ mother, Caroline – got home from work. Essentially, that’s about 2:30pm to 5:30pm. It wasn’t directly discussed, but it was assumed that the younger child would remain in daycare.

So, James thought it would work out well for all if they did this. He and Caroline would save some money on after school care for their oldest, and Grandma would get a chance to spend some quality time with one of her grandchildren.

It seemed like a win-win.

Grandma’s Surprise

After they all agreed on Grandma picking up the oldest kid and spending a few hours with her, James did the math and determined that it would be around 15 hours a week that his mother-in-law be helping out. That would clearly save James and Caroline some money. Or so they thought.

After a few days of “helping out”, Grandma informed her daughter Caroline that she thought $15 per hour was a good fee for the part-time nanny work she was doing. Caroline was surprised, but couldn’t tell her mother anything negative about it. She just didn’t have the strength to do so. Plus, her parents lived on a fixed-income, so maybe some extra money could help them.

When James found out, he was floored and upset. He wondered how Grandma could act like she was helping out, then spring it on them later that she expected to get paid? Caroline agreed, but it was her mother, and she wanted to keep the peace. So, James grudgingly went along with it. He didn’t like how his mother-in-law set this up, as he felt it was a bait and switch. However, the bottom line to him was that he didn’t want to upset his wife. They agreed to pay the $15 per hour.

Grandma Ups the Ante

After agreeing to pay her, my friend realized he was going to be paying $225 per week for this “after school care”. At this price, he could have sent his oldest kid to some form of daycare for the entire day. They had spent a pretty penny on daycare for her, but this amount wasn’t too far off the previous all-day expenditure according to him.  As he described this to me over the phone, it was clear that he had gotten more annoyed by this as a few days elapsed.

After 2 weeks or so, my friend and his wife paid Grandma. A few days later, Grandma called Caroline and complained that she was really hoping for more hours than this with the kids. Apparently, she was hoping to replace some of her income from when she was working a few years prior. At least that was her logic.

Caroline proceeded to tell James that Grandma was willing to drive both kids to their respective destinations in the morning, as well as take the oldest to late afternoon/early evening extrcurriculars a few days a week. This amounted to an extra 10 hours per week, according to her calculations.

James wasn’t buying any of it, as he thought it didn’t take an extra 10 hours to do such things. Plus, this put the weekly hours for Grandma at 25, and her pay at $375.  My friend got his wife to get her mother to agree to a lower rate – if I recall correctly, I believe it was $330. Regardless, the “help” from Grandma turned out to be really expensive.

Grandma’s Nickel-and-Diming

After that point, my friend had picked up the story with me a few weeks later in a subsequent call. At this point, he was mad. He was frustrated to the point of getting worked up on the phone, and didn’t share dollar amounts anymore.

James was furious at that point. His view, one that many might share, is that grandchildren shouldn’t be money-making opportunities for grandparents. Frankly, I totally agree with him. My parents have helped out quite a bit, and have never asked for anything other than an acknowledgement of their work, and appreciation. If I ever tried to pay them, they would turn it down immediately with no further discussion. They do it not out of obligation, but because they want to be helpful. Grandparents that don’t want to are fully within their rights, of course.

However, it wasn’t over yet. He told me something new that was quite amusing. After doing her additional driving, Grandma informed Caroline that she thinks that she should be compensated for her driving by getting a small gas allowance – particularly since prices have gone up.  Additionally, she took the oldest granddaughter out for food a few times, and thought she should be reimbursed for that. The food was of the fast-food variety (which my friend hates as well, since he doesn’t want his kids eating junk food).

The Final Outcome

James is not a happy camper about all of it. However, he just deals with it at this point.   Maybe there was some miscommunication at the beginning of all this, if you give the mother-in-law the benfefit of the doubt. He does like the in-laws well enough otherwise, and doesn’t want fights with his wife.  That’s also another problem – what if he gets so fed up with this, or doesn’t like some things about the care his kids are getting? Maybe he would prefer a different solution anyway.  At this point it would be very uncomfortable to ultimately ‘fire’ his mother-in-law.  He feels trapped. 

Additionally, James is spending more than he wants to and he really doesn’t like the idea of spending money on his inlaws anyway. He considers their finances to be their problem and not his.

Believe it or not, I’ve seen a crazier situation than this.  However, this one struck me as interesting because of how it’s perceived that Grandma just chiseled away at them over time, and there some gray areas as well.

Again, this is something that might not be a big deal to some, and might seem totally fine to others. All depends on what role one sees with grandparents and their grandchildren. To me, it seems strange to pay your parents to watch your kids – and have your parents not only take the money but ask for it too.  They’re certainly not obligated to spend their time this way, and absolutely shouldn’t be taken advantage of – but the idea of grandkids as a moneymaking opportunity is a bit different to me. The gas adjustment and food compensation really seemed over the top for me.  I’m biased, but I can understand how James is uncomfortable with all of this.

My Questions For You

  • How would you have handled the situation if you were James and/or Caroline?
  • Do you think Grandma was being over the top, or do you think she should expect to be compensated for her all her time and incremental expenses?

I welcome all viewpoints, whether you agree or disagree on my take. I’m sure there are logical views all around.


  1. says

    I think both are little over the top! Grandma if she values the relationship, shouldn’t be demanding money for every little help and the parents will find getting help outside is going to cost them a lot more.

    • Squirrelers says

      Moneycone – Grandma asking for money in such a nickel and dime way isn’t showing that she values the relationship enough, in my view. Of course, I also acknowledge that perhaps she and her husband, now that they’re older, have financial issues that they may have hidden. Who knows? Anyway, I’m not sure about the help outside costing them a ton more, now that I do the calculations.

  2. says

    Family dynamics are a tricky issue. I’d say that this is the adult daughter’s (Caroline) mess to clean up, as soon as possible. Left alone, this situation won’t get any better, just fester into a nasty scab that will get picked at over and over again the son-in-law.
    Just an opinion.

    • Squirrelers says

      101 Centavos – I agree that the daughter needs to take the lead in handling this situation, not her husband. After all, it’s her own mother. The husband will be simmering over this for some time, given that he doesn’t want to spend money on his inlaws.

  3. says

    Did anyone else get visions of the movie “one crazy summer” where they go to have dinner at grandma’s house and they’re oohing and ahhing about how good her meal is…until she presents them with a restaurant bill at the end.

    My mom wouldn’t take anything from me, but then again, I don’t charge her for all the home repairs we do to her house either. We give/take from each other all the time. I think any kind of one directional taking is a little sleazy. It’s gotta be give and take.

    If my mom was capable of driving my little nuts around, then I’d want to give her something for her troubles. If she didn’t want money, then I’d buy her something..a vacation, or gas cards or something. $15/hr is higher than market pricing in most areas though. Grandma is taking advantage, big time.

    • Squirrelers says

      First Gen – I know what you mean about giving her something for her troubles. I know someone who has a similar arrangement, but his in-laws don’t ask for one thing. Nothing at all. Instead, despite the modesty of the inlaws, he sends them on a trip each year or gets them a great Christmas gift to show appreciation in other ways. It works out great, and nobody feels taken advantage of. It’s all voluntary, all around.

  4. says

    I would have discussed this with my mother first. Honestly, there would have been an agreement that I would pay her something for her time, since it is 15 hours a week. (However, I think $15 is way over the top! At that price, I would put the child in an afterschool program!!!!)

    At this point, I think I would end the agreement with grandma. Clearly it is not working out, everyone is upset, and the child does not want to feel like a pawn.

    • Squirrelers says

      Melissa – I agree with you that this isn’t totally working out in the sense that everyone seems upset. The grandma wants to earn money and wont be happy or likely as cooperative without it, the husband is disappointed and hurt that he is being forced to pay people he doesn’t want to give money to, and the wife is caught in the middle in a way – and has to be sensitive to her Mom and her Husband.

    • Squirrelers says

      Financial Samurai – well, I have trouble going against elders, but sometimes they’re over the top! I do agree with you though that daycare is a big business, on many levels.

  5. says

    I love your Squirreler’s Gone Wild Stories!

    Personally, while I don’t think paying Grandma is out of line, I think Grandma has severely taken advantage of the situation. I’d fire her in favor of a cheaper option.

    On the other end of the scale, I have a friend who offered to watch her daughter’s baby when she was first born. Fast forward many years and the daughter now has five kids and Grandma is expected to watch them all. Oh, and get this… son-in-law doesn’t even work so he is home all day! And if Grandma needs a day off to see friends,etc. she basically has to go on bended knee to Son-In-Law or else he gets mad and causes all kinds of problems. Did I mention Grandma is NOT paid a dime and she even buys food and diapers for the kids to use while they are at her house? My friend is aging and tired but doesn’t want to cause a big fight by speaking up. (My friend also thinks she is a better influence on the kids than her son-in-law, which I agree with, so that is another reason she continues to watch them during the day.)

    • Squirrelers says


      First off, thanks for the feedback on the SGW series! I appreciate it.

      Second, I laughed when I saw the recommendation to “fire her in favor of a cheaper option”. Firing Grandma just seems like such a crazy concept – or at least an awkward phrase, anyway! I do agree that the situation is out of line, and they might be able to do better for their family going in another directions. Family dynamics are at play here, with the husband frustrated but not wanting to upset his wife – who doesn’t want to upset her mother.

      The example you shared seems out of hand for that grandmother. Watching 5 kids at an older age? If it was just one, and the mother/father paid for the diapers and food, I can see how it would be cool. Maybe then the son in law could get other things done, like make money or look for a chance to make money. That would be a nice gesture of the grandmother, and clearly she followed through. 5 kids seems like way too many, and a case of either being taken advantage of or being too nice for her own good.

  6. says

    They have to all sit down and communicate. Grandma might not realize how much trouble she is causing. I’m trying to get grandma to help with our kid as well and I don’t mind paying her some money. I put some money in dependent care assistance program (tax shelter) and would pay her from this fund. We are doing OK with money though and we always helped out the grandparents already.

    • Squirrelers says

      Retire by 40 – I think you said it well here: they have to all sit down and communicate. Really, husband and wife have to do so, and then they as a couple (or the wife taking the lead here) need to communicate openly with Grandma. Kindness toward elders is the way I skew in general, so it’s easier said than done – but this couple needs to operate in a way that makes them both happy. In my view, anyway:)

  7. says

    I wonder if Grandma thought she got the bait and switch when she had to ask for payment?

    Caroline has to grow up and take care of this. I have some strong opinions, so watch out.
    1. I think it is selfish of the couple to expect the grandparents to take care of their child for 3 hours a day for free. They were thinking about how much they would be saving, and not even thinking about the freedom retired grandma and grandpa would give up. I could never ask that of my mom. Especially since grandma was never very involved up until that point, what made this couple think the grandparents would be chomping at the bit to the tied down 3 hours a day?
    2. 15 dollars an hour to watch one child is highway robbery. Why would anyone agree to something so ridiculous?
    3. Why would anyone go into an arrangement like this without having these discussions up front? Obviously Caroline has issues standing up to her mother, and mom was able to fully exploit Caroline’s fears.
    4. I don’t understand why so many people today think that their parents SHOULD watch their kids for them so they can work, go away on big vacations, etc. It is the responsibility of each parent to take care of their own children. If you are going to ask for the help of others (outside of occasionally), then you better be prepared to compensate. You might think your children are a joy to be around everyday, but when you are 75 years old and lower on energy, then maybe it isn’t as appealing as you think.

    I am sure I sound crabby, but I know several people who have gotten mad at their parents because they won’t watch the kids more. Well too bad. Grandparents should not have to become parents again, they did their job. Entitlement drives me crazy.

    • Squirrelers says

      Everyday Tips –

      I’m cool with the strong opinions :) You bring up some really insightful points.

      For #1 – I agree that it’s selfish to expect grandparents to watch kids, but the idea of paying them is one that I think varies from family to family. For some, it seems perfectly fair. For others, it seems totally awkward. I’m in the latter camp, but can understand that people have different views.

      For #2 – Yes, when you add it up, it’s a lot of money. I’m not sure I realized just how much until it was pointed out to me by another commenter. It’s sky high.

      For #3 – I think there were probably some assumptions made on the part of both parties here. My friend feels like the victim of a bait and switch here, perhaps Grandma does too for some reason. You have a really good point about the wife having issues standing up to her mother. When married, adults must be able to stand up their parents and back their spouse.

      For #4 – It’s not fair to take advantage of grandparents and expect them to do things just because you want them to. Now, if they want to help, that’s another story. People just need to be fair all around and not feel entitled to labor.

    • says

      I agree with all of these 100% except #2. The one point of disagreement is that in some parts of the country (Los Angeles, for example), $15/hr is the going rate for a nanny (if you go with a US citizen). They might expect a discount from a relative, but they should have negotiated that.

      It sounds like they need to tell Grandma that they can’t afford her anymore and put their kids in after school care. I can’t believe they expected that she would be free.

      My husband’s grandmother is still being exploited for free childcare by selfish relatives and she’s being subsidized by her unselfish relatives. Basically her responsible family members give her an allowance, fix her house, pay for durables, and bring over groceries. Her irresponsible relatives drop their kids off every day whether they’re working or not (because if they were working they’d have to *gasp* pay child support for their kids from previous relationships with garnished wages) and not only never pay a dime but take other things as well. Essentially the responsible relatives are paying for childcare and other commodities for the irresponsible ones through this grandma. This grandma is old and in very poor health and much too old to be doing all this care.

  8. says

    Okay, I’m going to be mean. That grandma is an outright gold digger and your friends are stupid. They should have said from the first “$15 an hour” that they couldn’t do that and found their kids a real daycare. Now, they should explain why they are upset, dump the grandma, and find their kids alternative arrangements.

    Tell them a little Irish girl in Texas is more than willing to explain to grandma what a complete user she is…I am angry just thinking about it. You can leave out the part of me calling them stupid…maybe wussies is better…whatever, they need to dump Gma…

    • Squirrelers says

      Crystal – LOL…you’re direct and to the point in your assessments, that’s for sure! I tend to agree that grandma is out for money a bit too much here. Again, it’s just awkward to me to see money paid to her in this case, but again I’m comparing to my own experiences where money would never be taken. My own parents would absolutely refuse to be paid to babysit. As for the couple involved, I don’t think they’re at all stupid – but rather, as I think about it more, it’s the wife who has troubledealing with conflict with her mother. The husband is not happy about the situation, but doesn’t want to pressure his wife. I think it’s his wife that has to lay down the law (nicely) with grandma if her husband disagrees and feels cheated as he does.

  9. says

    I sometimes wonder where you find all these crazy people? :)

    I think the easiest way to get out of this pickle would be to simply tell Grandma that they couldn’t afford her private nanny services. I pay $225 a month for after care programs. $225 per week is insane!

    If grandma wanted to help from the goodness of her heart, I don’t think the parents would have been taking advantage of the situation. But obviously, this wasn’t the case.

    • Squirrelers says

      Lindy – I have a few folks I know that have provided me with a fair amount of material, that’s for sure! They’re high ROI in terms of blog material :) Other than them, I tend to have an eye for such situations and have always been amused by such antics. Actually, I’ve engaged in a few myself…though nothing like the craziest stuff I’ve seen others do.

      As for grandma, I tend to agree that she isn’t totally helping out of the goodness of her heart. She hasn’t been a bad grandma or mother in law until now, per my friend. They have all gotten along well, actually, and my friend still doesn’t think they’re bad people (inlaws, that is)…..he’s just upset with the behavior and golddigging in this situation, and is the kind of person that doesn’t want to be taken advantage of monetarily. Not that any of us want that, of course :)

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