The important role that grandparents play in child care

Blog Image for article The important role that grandparents play in child care

Whether Granny is working part-time, or Grandad is fully retired, many members of the older generation are busy with another job – caring for their grandchildren.

To see what this means in real terms, we look at two recent surveys on this topic – one that highlights the prevalence of grandparent care, and another that considers how senior Australians feel about looking after their child's child.

How popular is grandparent care, compared with other child care options?

Although a large proportion of families rely on long day care centres for child care, you may be surprised to learn that the second most common child care choice is closer to home, in the form of grandparent care.

Since 2006, our Child Care and Workforce Participation Survey has looked at the child care experiences of the community. Although the exact figures vary year-on-year (from 16 per cent of respondents using grandparent care in 2014 to 22 per cent in 2016), grandparents provide a perennially popular form of child care.

In 2018, 20 per cent of respondents said they use grandparent care, which means that more young Australians are being looked after by Granny or Grandad than at family day care or preschool.

In percentage terms, the 2018 Child Care and Workforce Participation Survey found that:

  • 78 per cent of families are using a child care centre
  • 20 per cent use grandparent care
  • 16 per cent use outside school hours care
  • 13 per cent use family day care
  • 10 per cent use a preschool/prep/kinder
  • Nine per cent use a nanny/au pair/babysitter

What is the grandparent care experience?

There are several reasons why grandparent care is so popular.

For parents, it is a convenient, low-cost (or even free) form of child care that comes with peace of mind. Mums and dads can feel confident that their child is in safe, loving hands, and children benefit too. There is the opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to form strong bonds, enjoy fun moments, share meaningful experiences and learn from one another.

However, for the 800,000 grandparents providing grandchild care each week, there are practical, emotional and physical considerations. To see how grandparents feel about their role as a later-in-life care-giver, Nickelodeon Australia has conducted a study called The Grand Illusion: Being Grandparents in the 21st Century.

This study involved a survey of 1,000 Australians aged 55 to 75 with grandchildren aged between 0 and 17, and here are some key findings that emerged from the research:

  • Grandparents put a focus on family: eighty-eight per cent of grandparents said family is their top priority and the majority said it’s important to provide support and guidance, pass down family traditions/culture and teach grandchildren life skills.
  • Many grandparents contribute financially: one-third of all grandparents surveyed said they help with the cost of raising their grandchildren, with retired grandparents spending the most on their grandchildren (averaging $402.40 per month).
  • Grandparent care brings about life changes: forty per cent reported making sacrifices to care for their grandchildren (with 20 per cent admitting it can be a financial burden). And 90 per cent of regular care-givers admitted that being a carer has changed their lifestyle.
  • It's physical, but also fun: more than 50 per cent of regular grandchild carers said the role can be physically demanding. Saying that, 88 per cent said they enjoy being a grandparent and 82 per cent identified ‘doing fun things together’ as the most important part of their role.
  • There can be pressure points: almost 40 per cent of grandparents said they've had disagreements or raised concerns with their own children regarding their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents feel confident in their care: almost 80 per cent of grandparents think they're doing a good job, even if over 25 per cent of them admit grandparent care is harder than they thought it would be.

How can parents make grandparent care easier for everyone?

This survey highlights some of the pros and cons that come with grandparent care. As well as sharing love and wisdom, grandparents are also contributing time and money, so before your family launches into this child care option, it's recommended that you plan the arrangements together first.

Our article on Successfully Using Grandparents for Child Care provides some great pointers, and before you 'hire' your older parent to care for your young child, it's important to discuss things like:

  • How much care they'll provide
  • Where it will take place
  • If/how you’ll pay them
  • How to approach matters like food, sleep, discipline, crying, activities and downtime

There is much to be gained from grandparent care and it works well for many families. Just make sure you take an honest approach, keep the lines of communication open and try and view grandparent care from the grandparent's perspective as well as your own.

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