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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.

Jamdoughnutfiend Fri 15-Mar-13 15:59:44

It must be lovely to have grandparents help, but my DF is dead, my DM, who is 69 still works 5 days a week and my ILs live in another country 13 hours away. I live in the area i grew up in, so our children see their extended family on my side, we dont get help with childcare. So having children for us meant we had to be able to afford to care for them, or rather pay someone to care for them. Everything is getting harder to afford, and don't blame my DM for still working, it means she has a more comfortable life in a job she enjoys. I only know of 1 friend that gets significant help with childcare, it isn't common where I live in greater London.

The government can't have it both ways - if they want extended families like the Greek model, there needs to be support for FAMILY - equally, if we want to be more Scandinavian, then fund childcare properly because I am paying £1800 a month for my 2 and with no pay rises for 5 years, inflation is taking its toll! (Never mind taking child benefit......)

CommanderShepard Fri 15-Mar-13 16:03:40

Quite apart from the fact that they live 3 hours away my parents are in their early fifties - so they've easily got 15 years of work left in them before retirement and my dad is a tenured professor so technically may never retire!

nanny I take your point about SAHMs but for many WOHMs it's not simply financial motivations that lead us back to work (saying that I'm on mat leave but going back next month). You also mention a support network but in order to establish a career I had to go where the jobs were: which was and is nowhere near my parents in the North West.

Talkinpeace Fri 15-Mar-13 16:04:41

Only have two still alive.
One lives 3,500 miles away and the other 200 miles away.
For most of my friends - who moved away to University - grandparent childcare has never been an option.

expatinscotland Fri 15-Mar-13 16:05:08

Not at all possible or feasible because cost of living is too high. I didn't become a mother until my 30s. If my children don't have children until their 30s, I will be in my late 60s and probably still working.

Still I think a nice thing to be involved in your grandchildren's lives in your 60's - I'd rather do that than work to 66 - and I'm not sure I can see many people offering me employment at that age anyway, since it already seems hard to come by at 48. Well, I'm sure life will continue to pan out one way or the other ... Spanish or Italian model of big extended families seems very attractive though smile

Talkinpeace Fri 15-Mar-13 16:18:26

Spanish or Italian model of big extended families seems very attractive though
Yeah, its great. Low social and physical mobility, HUGE youth unemployment, over generous pension systems that are being funded by British and German taxpayers. Sorry but the Dolmio advert world is NOT good.

Fashionfail Fri 15-Mar-13 16:24:56

'I've put her to sleep on her front. It never hurt you'.

Grandparents are not always the right answer.

You haven't put me off yet Talkinpeace - maybe it was the mention of the over generous pension system ! But seriously I just imagine being with my DD and her children (or DS's) - if they have them ! - would be heaven smile

nenevomito Fri 15-Mar-13 16:28:42

I rely heavily on my parents for help with childcare and to be honest I have no idea what I would do if I didn't have them.

The upside is that my DCs have a relationship with my parents that I never did as we lived a long way from them. The downside is that I do feel guilty about the amount of effort they put in for not much money and I know my Mum would rather not be doing it at all.

The reality is that full time childcare for my pre-schooler and before and after school club for my elder child would bankrupt us.

The answer isn't to use Grandparents more. The answer is to have more affordable childcare.

amothersplaceisinthewrong Fri 15-Mar-13 16:49:31

If, as seems to be the trend these days women are having children much later, and this continues on another generation, wont' lots of these grandparents be just too old to provide childcare? They might even need care themselves.

I lived and still do live 250 miles from both families, therefore the granparents were obviously unable to provide any childcare. But my Mum said (quite rightly) that she had done it once and would not have stepped in anyway . In the end I was an SAHM for 10 years, returning to a family-friendly hours job.

When we say we need "affordable" childcare, I assume this means goverment subsidies and not paying childminders/nannies peanuts.

Snowme Fri 15-Mar-13 16:58:37

I'm planning on returning to work this September when my youngest starts Reception.
I'm terrified about the childcare options as a lone parent.

I will have to work full time not part time to afford the rent so will need before and after school clubs (fortunately both the infant and junior school do them, and are adjacent to eachother), but it's things like illness and worse, school holidays, that concern me.

If I ever had to move from this house, I wouldn't find somewhere as cheap now because rents have increased significantly in he last 6 months since I've been here, for some reason. And that would impact massively on things like school (not going through rigmarole of in year transfer again), availability of wraparound childcare if I had to move schools of we couldn't find a cheap enough property in the current area, and then the logistics of it all, because to save money I am going to have to work in the same town we live in, because I couldn't afford the bus fares to nearby towns, so that limits my job prospects.

The idea of using virtually all my employed holiday time to cover school holidays isn't pleasant, but even that won't cover the school holidays, and of my 65 year old mother who currently helps out my other sister with childcare during school holidays becomes progressively more poorly, I will be completely stuck.

On a lone parent income I just couldn't afford unpaid time off work to cover school holidays, else how will I pay the rent that month??! I see the future as one where I barely see or interact with my children, just briefly for an hour when Iget home from work and put them to bed, and the weekends, assuming I don't also have to work Saturdays finances depending :/

And when we do have time together during school holidays, I won't have any money to do nice stuff with them anyway as I'll be on unpaid leave.
By which I mean, just the odd day trip to a museum or the seaside or cinema or whatever.

The idea of relying on their grandparent for childcare is good on paper, but my mother can barely walk from the front door to the car lately. I can't rely on that for the next 10 years, until they are old enough to become latchkey kids. Sometimes, I hate being a lone parent family sad

Perriwinkle Fri 15-Mar-13 17:29:54

The idea of using virtually all my employed holiday time to cover school holidays isn't pleasant

As a far as I'm concerned, that's a fact of life for a working parent. I never ever use any of my annual leave outside of term time.

tallulah Fri 15-Mar-13 17:40:11

I was a bit [shocked] that the blog talks about grandparents in their 50s, since I will be 50 in a few months and have a child in Y1 grin

My ILs used to look after DC3 and DC4; picking them up from playgroup and taking them to pre-school. My mum looks after DC5 for odd days during the holidays and if she is sick. We don't expect her to do it - they enjoy spending time together on their own, and actually asked if she could have her for a week in the summer holidays. The rest of the holidays either DH or I cover them with Annual Leave or we pay for Holiday Club.

I wouldn't want grandparents to provide FT care for very small children. I think there is too much potential for conflict. But the odd day or week I think does both parties good. (obviously where it is feasible geographically and no health concerns).

DCs1-4 are all old enough to have children of their own. We both work FT so there is no way we could help them out.

Gales Fri 15-Mar-13 17:44:48

I think maybe we can have both!

Current trend is for women to have their first child in their 30s? If our children do the same, then people won't become GPs until they're approaching 70 and will be retired even with increasing retirement age.

The issue will be whether older GPs are up to it (or still with us) not whether they're still working.

motherinferior Fri 15-Mar-13 17:50:37

I prefer working for pay to doing unpaid childcare. So does my mum (who was a very unhappy SAHM in her day).

CheungFun Fri 15-Mar-13 17:58:24

My DM is 55 this year, but there's no way that she would be physically fit enough to look after DS (1yo) instead of me paying for childcare as she has a bad back due to two slipped discs and a frozen shoulder. One size doesn't fit all. Some people are very lucky to have parents living close by who are able and willing to provide free childcare, but I think for a lot of people this isn't realistic and it shouldn't be expected that grandparents are going to be providing free childcare.

I'm sorry things are tough for you Snow - I hope you can find good ways forward when youngest starts reception in September and you go back to work - hopefully after school club will be a help smile

breatheslowly Fri 15-Mar-13 18:31:42

We are very lucky in being able to work to "the Scandinavian Model". DD goes to nursery, but if she is ill then a grandparent will step in so that we can go to work. They also offer babysitting, including over night. The grandparents would struggle with a lively toddler fulltime, but many of their peers do this and find it very tough. However if I work to 68, I am unlikely to even be able to offer this level of support if DD has chidren at about the same age as we had her.

Xmasbaby11 Fri 15-Mar-13 18:46:19

We have no default. DD is in nursery full time, and if she is sick, DH or I take time off work.

Xmasbaby11 Fri 15-Mar-13 18:53:20

My parents were in their thirties when they had me, and I was in my thirties when I had DD. So they are in their 70s now and they are well but don't have the energy to look after an energetic toddler. I don't expect them to, anyway. They did their bit and my mum stayed at home with me for 5 years. They deserve their retirement.

My DP's are in their 70's and have had my DC's to stay on two occasions for a week whilst I went on holidays to the Highlands with DH. DC's were 8 and 10, then 10 and 12 or thereabouts. Am not sure they will be up to doing it again !
Would have been nice if we'd lived nearer to them whilst DC's growing up for lots of reasons. I go and stay with them for a few days with the DC's in most of the school holidays, and we've done some lovely things together such as interesting days out which has all given me a bit of a break.
Personally I'd like to be more hands on when it's my turn, but we'll have to see how things pan out. I don't know how I'll feel by the time I'm in my 60's I guess ! And will depend on circumstances and how DC's want to do things too I'm sure.

JourneyThroughLife Fri 15-Mar-13 19:45:07

What I'm about to say will probably sound selfish, but no, I'm not going to help out with my daughter's children when I'm a grandparent. When I was a young mother I gave up my best working years for my children, I stayed at home all their young lives and devoted myself to them. I missed out on a career but believe I gave them the best I could offer while they needed me. But those years are over and I returned to the workplace, working myself up to where I am now. I love my job and don't intend to give up until they actually physically remove me directly into a nursing home!! I'm certainly not giving up to look after grandchildren - I did my bit at the right time and don't ever want to have to take on childcare responsibilities again, especially when I'm older.....

That's OK Journey - I had a fair bit of time to do as I pleased in my twenties, and my career, though interesting and rewarding at times hasn't especially gone anywhere. On the whole I haven't especially enjoyed my working life - home life has always given me more happiness. So, if I'm lucky enough to have grandchildren I feel at the moment that I'd be quite content to spend pretty much as much time with them as possible - you could say for selfish reasons !
(Though hopefully it will be a win-win all round)

Nat38 Fri 15-Mar-13 21:27:22

I have always worked around not having help from the Grandparents.sad
I have now separated from my husband & both of his parents have now diedsadsad His mother suffered from epilepsy & was a sahm, died 5/6 years ago, his dad worked ft until he took voluntary redundancy at age 62 & then suddenly died 9 days after his 65th birthday, 10/11 years ago.
My dad is coming up to 70 & never really been in my lifesad
My mum is still working FT & is 65 in June.
My DD`s are 12 & 14.
My in-laws were always there before their deaths for baby sitting duties as & when required & my mum is still there for me for as & when required for babysitting outside of her job, she would also be available in an emergency & take time of work if required & asked!
I do have a good support system in my mum, sister & soon to be ex-husband if needed!smilesmile

gaelicsheep Fri 15-Mar-13 21:35:10

I don't know what the statistics are for the amount of families where grandparents look after the children some/all of the time, but I often get the feeling that social policy and attitudes are based on the assumption that this is possible. With the cost of childcare it is genuinely unaffordable for many families to have two parents in work. I look at families where one parent is working, say, part time in Tesco and I think they MUST have grandparent taking care of the children because how on earth could that job - with the irregular hours that often go with it - possibly be doable if it needed paid childcare. Yet that scenario seems to increasingly be the expectation of Government and society alike.

Me, well my parents are well into their 60s, they couldn't possibly cope with the children, they've never even had them for a full evening. And they live hours away so it is totally impossible in every respect. Consequently one of us stays at home.

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