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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.

babyboomersrock Fri 15-Mar-13 22:03:51

My OH and I are 66 and at the moment we mind our 2 year old grandson 2 days a week from 7.30am - 5pm; one of his parents delivers him to us. His mother works 3 days a week and the other day is covered by the "other grandpa" doing 2 days a month and my son using annual leave for the remaining days.

On one of our days we stay at home and do the usual house-based activities; he "helps" us with the houswork, garden, feeding hens and other pets, baking, playing music and so on. We always have at least two walks as well.

On the other day we go to a museum/park/beach, depending on weather - we take picnics.

We take him home at 5pm. We're lucky that we're fit and active - as are most of the grandparents we meet when we're out and about - but there must be some who are really exhausted, or who don't have transport or money to go anywhere. I don't know how they cope.

I'm fully retired but my husband's an academic and still does a few days' work a month - sometimes from home, though he travels too. I have four children and I anticipate that the others will have families in due course. I simply don't know how we're going to be able to help them all, and of course it's an expense - I don't think we could stretch to doing the same for them all, and that is upsetting.

I know lots of people of our age who're in the same position; their own children aren't having their families until they're in their 30s. By that time, they have huge mortgages and outgoings which mean they both have to work so the grandparents find themselves in their late 60s, retired, but unable to make plans for holidays and so on without asking for "leave" - it's a complicated business.

I love the fact that we see so much of our grandson - but there's no doubt that it changes the relationship. Sometimes I long just to be a granny and not a substitute parent.

My daughter-in-law would prefer to be at home with her son full-time. I can't imagine what it must be like to feel like that and have to hand over to granny a couple of days a week; I was at home until my youngest went to school. We do our utmost to do things their way and make it easy for them - luckily we're on the same wave-length most of the time, and I think it's imperative that we do things their way for the child's sake. If you're an occasional granny, maybe you can be a bit more relaxed and indulgent, but if you're actually providing regular child care, it's more like a job.

(Unpaid, and without lunch breaks!)

My apologies for the long inconclusive post. I don't have an answer.

NK2b1f2 Fri 15-Mar-13 22:27:25

My IL died many years ago before I could meet them and my own parents are mid 70s and mid 80s and abroad, so I have never seen grandparents as an option for regular childcare. And to be honest Even if they were younger and closer, I would never expect them to be on standby to babysit or provide regular full day childcare. I think it's a lot to ask. I am one of four and feel my parents did their bit in bringing us up. Why should they have to go back to pushing prams etc?
I've seen too many examples in my work of grandparents in their 60s an 70s forced to provide long hours of care because they felt that if they refused they may not see their grandchildren again. That's just plain wrong.

Maybe it's slightly unrealistic though to hope for a long period of active retirement where you do as you please and go on lots of holidays ? I think it's only going to be a minority of us that have that sort of retirement - many more will be helping the next generations. To me it seems like a natural and good way to spend that stage of life, though the occasional holiday is always nice, and I hope we'll have enough money to at least take any grandchildren on a few interesting visits and outings as you do babyboomer - Your grandchildren - and children - sound very lucky ! BTW I don't think you can worry too much about offering exactly the same to each of your children - I guess you just have to take things as they come, and see what you feel able to offer as you go along smile

1944girl Fri 15-Mar-13 23:27:22

I am now 68 and have helped to care for all of my five grandchildren since they were babies.The oldest is now 21 and I was working two or three days a week when all of them were born, just fitted in the childcare when ever I could.
The two youngest are now 12 and 10 so it is getting easier now.I have them in school holidays and collect youngest one from school.My DH is unable to do much childcare now as he is disabled with heart disease but helped out with childcare when the older ones were small.

scottishmummy Fri 15-Mar-13 23:35:31

No grandparents should not have expectation of care,it nice if you get it.but not a given

OrWellyAnn Fri 15-Mar-13 23:52:44

My DDad often helps out with childcare, not because he reels he has to, but because he loves DS and wants to spend this time with him. It's given him (and us) an extra dimension to his daily life. i dont think anyone we know can deny seeing the benefits it brings, to ds and DDad in their lovely relationship together, and me in being able to do the odd days work or catch up on things I need to do. it's a real win-win situation.

gaelicsheep Fri 15-Mar-13 23:55:18

I think it is lovely if it's possible and works for both sides, but should never ever be expected - not by society and especially not by parents themselves. My mum is, I think, the only one in her group of friends who does not have regular care of a pre-schooler - it is amazingly common. I think it is a hidden timebomb tbh.

OrWellyAnn Fri 15-Mar-13 23:56:42

Maybe it's slightly unrealistic though to hope for a long period of active retirement where you do as you please and go on lots of holidays ? I think it's only going to be a minority of us that have that sort of retirement.

^^ and y,y,y to this...mostly because our generation will not be able to retire once the Tories have robbed us of our pensions, healthcare and education. We'll be paying for it all AND trying to help our poor bloody kids get any sort of a start in life. The baby boomers really did have the best of life once they hit their teens...they were and are the first and last truly priviliged generation. I see my parents and their friends enjoying a retirement that will be utterly unfathomable to me and most of my friends.

babyboomersrock Sat 16-Mar-13 00:12:38

Well, this particular babyboomer, along with many of her contemporaries, was poor for many years, OrWellyAnn. Most of us were SAHMs, so we lived pretty frugally.

We had one foreign holiday when our children were young (camping) - normally, holidays were spent at grandparents' homes. We had one old car, a house we'd bought but couldn't afford to renovate, we almost never went out socially, no meals out - the sort of thing many younger people take for granted now. Everyone lived like that, so it seemed normal and we certainly didn't feel resentful.

And now? I'm still helping my youngest who's now at the post-grad stage. We provide free child care and help financially when we can. We still don't holiday abroad! Last year we had two days in Morar and two days in Braemar - hard to organise around child care and in any case we'd rather spend it on family. I know a lot of people in our position.

Oh, and I agree it's tragic that the Tories are making life so hard - I certainly didn't vote them in and nor did any of my close friends.

babyboomersrock Sat 16-Mar-13 00:14:11

PS. We did have the best of music, I grant you that. And there were jobs.

BertieBotts Sat 16-Mar-13 00:18:21

None of my DS' grandparents want to be childcarer for him - and that's fine IMO. He's not their child. They will babysit or take him out for the day, but a more regular, permanent arrangement wouldn't work for us. I don't think I'll particularly want to be raising my grandchildren when I'm older either. But I do feel like I don't have enough time for DS at the moment and wish he could be at home with family more. sad It's hard.

NapaCab Sat 16-Mar-13 03:32:04

It's nice for grandparents if they are healthy enough and young enough to be engaged with the care of their grandchildren. I would say about half of the people I know rely on their parents in some capacity for childcare. It's not an option for us as we live abroad and my parents are older and not so fit and DH's parents have always made it very clear that they would not do anything more than occasional babysitting.

There is going to be a crunch point at some stage as the current generation of parents, who mostly are two-income households, become grandparents. Grandparents may not be available to take care of grandchildren as they will be working themselves. I think the only solution is for subsidised childcare of some kind, like the Scandinavian system, and a return of the married couple's tax-free allowance to allow those who want a SAHP option to benefit as well.

We need to stop viewing childcare as some incidental issue that people have to find their own solutions to within the family and offer support to working parents.

moonbells Sat 16-Mar-13 19:04:51

When DS was born my mother was 76, registered disabled and barely able to walk across a room. It's a trial when we visit (she's now 81), as toys get everywhere and I'm forever expecting her to trip over the Lego and break a leg or something. Dad's got one replacement limb and needs another. They also live 140 miles from us and can't move as their friends are there and they couldn't get the same level of council care as they do currently if they moved down here.

My PIL are younger but FIL (75) is having a triple bypass next week, and they too live 140 miles away (in the opposite direction!) They have had DS to stay once in 5y, so we could go to a wedding.

The idea certainly wouldn't work in our case!

taketheribbon Sun 17-Mar-13 11:38:17

The answer is obvious. Have your children with a man 10-15 years younger than you, who is of mediterranean descent, and his parents, who will be relatively young, will be overjoyed to look after your children while you are at work. Your children will also benefit from becoming fully bilingual.

That's what I did. wink

Smart move taketheribbon grin

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