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Guest blog: should grandparents be expected to plug the childcare gap?

(65 Posts)
KateMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 15-Mar-13 11:57:25

A new report from Grandparents Plus argues that society faces a stark choice about the role of grandparents in childcare.  We can either ask older people to work for longer before retiring, or to fill the childcare gap by caring for their grandchildren while the parents go out to work  - but we can't do both. 

In today's guest blog, Gransnet Editor Geraldine Bedell argues that it may not be possible or desirable for grandparents to plug the "looming care-gap crisis" - and that we need to find an alternative solution.

Read her post, and tell us what you think. Do you rely on your own parents for childcare - and would you be forced to stop work if they weren't able to help? If the retirement age increases, what can be done to fill the childcare gap?

Let us have your thoughts - and if you post on this topic, do link to your URL on the thread.

Bonsoir Fri 15-Mar-13 12:05:37

I liked Geraldine Bedell's post and I liked the comparison between the Scandinavian and the Mediterranean childcare models (Spanish grandparents are the most devoted of the lot, IME).

For me, the real, big issue is whether institutionalising our children from the earliest age is going to provide them with the emotional support to make happy, balanced adults of them. I personally have severe reservations about early and continued institutionalisation of children and for that reason alone I cannot support any sort of political system that wants all adults of sound body and mind in paid work outside the home. I think we need a significant proportion of adults of sound body and mind bringing up DC in the home. I know a lot of Scandinavians and I am not impressed with the state of their relationships, and nor are they - most of the Scandinavians I know choose to have a SAHP, because they are in a situation (living outside their home country) where that is possible.

Haven't read everything yet but am just thinking I'd rather spend my late 50's and 60's helping to raise my grandchildren than continuing in the workplace which for me would probably involve caring for other people's children in a more stressful setting, with likely higher ratio's of children (than at home). Though I may consider some further training to become a Health Visitor at some point before the grandchildren arrive ! (DD is 13 ATM and off school today with nasty cold so not likely just yet)
But I like the Spanish model of grandparents being so involved supporting the younger generations. To me work isn't the be all and end all - I'd rather turn my attention to the future as I get older, nurturing the new generation, and supporting my DD and DS on their life journey's at the same time.

CMOTDibbler Fri 15-Mar-13 12:53:47

My parents and PIL were long retired before dh and I chose to have a child - for whom we'd worked out childcare costs and if we could pay them.

My care crisis is not about my child, its about my parents. At 40, with a 6 year old (and a ft job), my parents are right on the very edge of coping at home. And believe me, trying to care for elderly adults with multiple health issues (sometimes they have 5 or more healthcare appointments a week) puts organising nursery or childminders into perspective!

Bonsoir Fri 15-Mar-13 12:55:22

I think a lot of women in their 50s and 60s would like to slow down a bit at work. I know plenty of women who feel or felt that their last years at work before retirement were awful - that their energy levels had dropped and that they had no time or energy for anything once work was finished. Maybe part-time care of grandchildren suits the time of life better than WOHM?

I did a child psychology module (just part of an OU undergrad degree) about 10 years ago and the statistics then indicated children under 3 cared for by grandparents did the least well of any group, in terms of educational attainment and a few other markers, children at home with a parent did narrowly better than children in formal childcare.

I would be deeply unimpressed if there were some state system in place to mean my parents or in-laws were paid to stay at home with my children but which made it financially very difficult or impossible for me to chose to do so, surely if anyone is state subsidised to stay home it should be one parent, not a grandparent, that just makes no sense at all.

A lot of grandparents are of course doubtless incredible and brilliant childcarers, but others are no longer healthy enough to look after children 5 full days a week (my own mother most certainly isn't, and she isn't even especially "old" but is no longer/ no longer considers herself strong enough to take sole charge of a toddler without roping in other adults to help her do it, and of course other parents no longer have their own parents or have such a terrible relationship with them, or live and work so far away from them, that it would be unthinkable to use them as childcare.

What would happen in a scenario where a woman (woman A) had a baby at 17, then later went on to have another at 42, and meanwhile her first baby (now in her mid 20s) had had a couple of children of her own - would the woman be paid to look after her grandchildren but be under pressure from her own mother, potentially also only in her early 60s, to hand her youngest over so that the grandmother of that child would get her stay at home opportunity! grin

People in their late 60s without grandchildren would presumably have to continue working, even if they'd rather be home (caring for grandchildren if they had them).

I can't see how a scheme to officially make grandparents default child-carers and force all parents back into work would ever work, on so very many different levels!

I don't think a formal scheme or subsidy is being suggested at this point MrTumbles - though more recognition of grandparents support through childcare would be good IMHO, and perhaps lead to a change in those stats you opened with ? There could be socio-economic factors at work with those in any case ?

Mandy21 Fri 15-Mar-13 13:11:35

I think its quite short sighted – in my children's class at school there is only one family that lives close enough to grandparents to rely on them for childcare. Its not a question of whether grandparents should / could / would take on the role of childcare, its logistically not possible for the vast majority of people. In my experience, young people starting out on their careers go where the work is – this is more true than ever now. Yes, it is possible for some people to move closer to parents when they consider starting a family but in lots of cases thats not true.

I think it's quite likely that in say ten years time, when I'm 58 and she's 23, that my DD will be more highly employable than me. I will have lots of experience in especially early years education and some counseling skills, but she will have a much better understanding of all the new technologies - unless I do some serious catch-up work in IT etc !
It may work out well for me to provide some of the child-care and for her to continue to develop her career ? I think some of this employability factor may be due to perception and prejudice against older women, with our skills and experience not probably recognised, valued, and rewarded. But some also to rapid changes in work-place practices and expectations.

Agree with bonsoir's second post here, it may suit some women's interests and energy levels better too - to be more involved in nurturing roles within the family at this stage of their lives.

Bonsoir Fri 15-Mar-13 13:29:32

It is difficult to compare countries when the cultural, societal, economic and political predispositions for several generations of a family to live in close physical proximity vary so hugely.

In the UK we have long expected 18 year olds leaving home for university to never return. As ever more young people pursue HE, ever more young people move away from their families to find work. If British GPs are going to help more with childcare, that particular deep-seated trend is going to need to be reversed first.

I do think that in the UK people get themselves in a total logistical twist, expecting to commute long distances to work/school etc. If people lived closer to their place of work, many childcare issues could be eased.

Nannytwotimes Fri 15-Mar-13 14:14:50

I was a stay at home mum, as were all of my friends, back in the 70s.
The main reason parents return to work seems to be financial but what is so different now? We were all hard up but just lived within our means. We didn't go out for coffee, meals or a drink. No Spa treatments or pamper days! We paid our bills and that was about it.

I wish that one parent was able to stay at home for the first 3 years ( I can hear the gasps) so that they could experience the lovely times you can have with friends and their children. Not only did we have a great support network we had great fun too!

Bonsoir Fri 15-Mar-13 14:26:22

You are so right, nannytwotimes. I absolutely loved all the hours in the park with DD and other families and I think it is easy to forget what we miss out on by thinking we need to spend money to have a good time.

Nannytwotimes Fri 15-Mar-13 14:35:31

Sadly, I think we are in the minority. Enjoying doing the same with no. 1 grandson during the Easter/summer holidays. We make a list of outings - one each week - and then do them. They have included ' riding upstairs on a double decker bus!!!! Fab.

skaen Fri 15-Mar-13 14:36:35

Nannytwotimes - I think housing prices and rents may have crept up a little bit since the 70s, and incomes haven't quite gone up so fast. Many parents need to both work to pay their rent or mortgage and bills, and the ones in real financial difficulty are also most likely to be those relying on grandparent help as they can't afford the alternative.

JerryLeadbetter Fri 15-Mar-13 14:44:27

We live in London (zone 4) and are lucky enough that DP grew up here and his parents live just down the road. As a result they are involved in our DCs upbringing, and are always on hand to babysit (providing they're not busy) if we need them to. MIL is now retired, but FIL still working full time, due to cut down/stop over the next couple of years. My Mum, on the otherhand, lives 100 miles away, so visits often, but not directly involved.

I'm a SAHM, but even when I go back to work, I still don't think i'd expect GPs to take the full load of childcare, unless they desperately wanted to- I just don't think it's fair to expect them to take on, let's face it, a knackering role at a time in their lives when they finally have more freedom. They adore the DCs, but since they have other GC as well (DPs bros have 1 child each), even if they only did childcare for 1 or 2 days a week for us, then i'm sure they'd feel that they would have to offer the same to the others, and therefore it really does become a full time job. When the DCs are older, they may well help with after school pick up and tea once or twice a week, we'll have to see how things pan out. I adore my In-laws though, and I think they really do enhance our DCs lives because they see them so often.

I really feel for other parents who i've made friends with via playgroups/NCT, who live in London, far, far away from their parents, and have absolutely no option of having their parents help, even if they wanted to. In fact, not many people I know here have any family close by to call on, not even for evening babysitting, let alone as a permanent daytime role.

MrTumble - Did the study say why children who were looked after by GPs were behind educationally? What were the other markers? Really interested, I would never think this would be the case, not sure why!

randomtask Fri 15-Mar-13 14:45:52

We couldn't afford for me to work (I'd have earnt £10 a day if that after childcare) and there's no way I'd let my IL's look after DC, plus my parents work. When we bought our house we made sure the mortgage was 'do-able' on DH's income (which isn't massive in comparison to most people), realising that meant DC's sharing rooms, not buying amazing new furniture, TV's, having an old car etc.

I don't understand why/how people have DC knowing the only way they can afford it is if their parents look after the children. It probably isn't so bad if they have offered, but, it just isn't the same. DSS (now aged 11) lived with DH and his parents between the ages of 4 and 7-we are still dealing with various 'issues' that have been left over from PIL 'treating' him and him not getting the life experience/friend experience he should have. They wouldn't admit to his problems (even he now admits he's glad it didn't continue) but, they are pleased they can now be 'just' grandparents.

Nannytwotimes Fri 15-Mar-13 14:46:36

I do understand but our mortgage interest rate was fifteen percent! We had no money to spare whereas the kids today have masses of toys and clothes. I feel we had it so much easier in our day with no pressure.

Bonsoir Fri 15-Mar-13 14:50:09

Different forms of childcare promote different sorts of development and children will be good at different things. I seem to remember that study and that DC who had been with grandparents had wider and deeper vocabularies than DC who had been to nursery. It all depends on what you measure.

Yes, there's too much pressure these days Nannytwo - I can feel it stepping up all the time in the workplace, for our children with their exams and other pressures on them, from the government and from society ... to work, to be better parents, to consume and spend !

No space to Be we all have to Do, Do, Do smile

TheCrackFox Fri 15-Mar-13 15:05:57

Most Grandparents don't actually live that close to their grandchildren. My parents live 3hrs away and the PILs live 1000 miles away. Really not that convenient for childcare. I suspect most families are now scattered around the country too.

Moreover, My mum has recently retired at the age of 66 (working full time). She even contemplated working longer as she quite liked earning money and wanted to build her own pension pot up.

soundevenfruity Fri 15-Mar-13 15:06:08

If the current trend for delayed motherhood is going to continue then it is not going to be a really viable option for a lot of people. Especially considering small age gaps between children in UK. I don't know how many over 60 year olds are fit enough to take care of a baby and a toddler or two on a regular basis. If I could I would choose to have DC with people that unconditionally love them and are not just salaried employees (whether a nursery or a nanny).

morethanpotatoprints Fri 15-Mar-13 15:33:25

I think its fine if gps want and offer to provide childcare but it should never be assumed or expected. All our family were miles away from us when dc were little but even if not I would never have expected them to provide childcare. It used to make me angry when I heard parents complaining about the care the gps were giving to their children, usually free of charge. If they only knew how bad they sounded over something really stupid.

Nannytwotimes perhaps daughters react to what their mothers did and want to try the opposite - my mum worked full time when my sisters and I were children in the 70s and left us with a series of nannies (as in employees not grandparents) and then boarding school. I have very few childhood memories of her being anything other than rushed and stressed (coming in from work shouting at us because we were watching TV instead of rushing out to unpack the shopping she had done in her lunch hour from the car and then starting to cook dinner with her coat still on, is a vivid one). My DH and I accepted a move abroad when I was pregnant with my second child as it was the only way we could afford for me to stay at home (we lived in Surrey in a small 3 bed demi and my husband's salary just covered the mortgage and basic bills but with nothing left over for any form of food, never mind meals out! I gave up work outside the home to and became a childminder when I had my first - up side of Surrey prices was huge demand for childminders so I was fully booked up very quickly and better off than I would have been returning to my job and paying childcare - but my second child would have had to take up a childminding "place" and so left us wtih too little income from mindees to cover everything!)

Bonsoir and Jerry I'm afraid I can't remember the details of the study, you are very likely right Bonsoir studies and statistics can prove almost anything you want them to, it depends what you choose to measure and how you measure it, I think my old text book is in the attic, I will try to remember to look at some point! My kids spend a couple of nights each school holiday with my in-laws, each of them has started to do so from about 12 months old, and the in-laws only speak German with them and it certainly has always had a positive effect on their German skills while they've been pre-kindergarten age, but I wouldn't want to ask the in-laws to do any sort of 8-6 type childcare on an on-going basis (not that they live close enough anyway, its an hour's drive), the holiday visits are about right, plus contact as a family of course. My in-laws don't tend to take the children anywhere outside their own house and garden, they play lots with them but never go anywhere, which is fine for 2-3 days but wouldn't be for longer!

MrsHoarder Fri 15-Mar-13 15:50:17

The eldest of DS's GPs is 56. Unsurprisingly none have retired and its unlikely that any will fully retire before he reaches secondary school age. Plus they are all 200 miles away. They have had their turn of raising children and now have the freedom to please themselves, not be pressured into looking after the next generation.

Phineyj Fri 15-Mar-13 15:57:27

I thought it was a little odd in the study that they were saying an issue was losing 50-something Grandmas from the workforce. On current trends, not many people are going to become GPs till their 60s e.g. near retirement age.

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