Granny The Granny Debate
Do grandparents need a second turn at parenting?
By Sophie Cross

I remember my mum saying to me once when we were having the conversation about whether it was a good or bad thing that we lived thousands of miles apart: "You know, of course I love you and Francesca, but I wouldn't want to see you all the time. I've done my parenting. I don't want to do yours as well, thank you." So while I missed out on having her on tap for babysitting duties, when we did see her, it was for quality time and holidays, not child care duties.

But, it's not always as simple as that and it's becoming more and more the case that in these times of financial strain, grand-parenting is in danger of becoming more of a duty than a delight.

Grandparents often continue to work well into their dotage, at least part time, and also act as child carers for their grandchildren while their own children have to work to pay for the ever-increasing cost of living.

People are living longer for sure, but they're also working longer and having less and less of a "retirement". Our last Child Care and Workforce Participation Survey revealed over 11% were using grandparents as carers, and with an aging population, financial strain and increasing child care fees, this figure is likely to grow.

Where I live in Spain it's all very family oriented, particularly in rural areas and villages where extended families live together and it's pretty normal to have several generations of the same family living within a few streets of each other.

Grandparents almost always double up as child minders, although children start school at 3 years old, so it's for a shorter period of time. They are often the ones who drop the kids off at the school bus and greet them when they return before they all settle down to lunch and siesta. 

But in Australia it's not nearly as convenient as it is here.  Grandparents are not necessarily around the corner and are having to travel fair distances to be with their grandchildren at least a couple of days a week.  And as all parents know, a day looking after a toddler is HARD! You need a lot of energy. Grandparents I've spoken to before in playgrounds and at playgroups etc) are, frankly, knackered.  The physical challenge of meeting the demands of a toddler for 8 hours a day, not to mention the additional cooking, cleaning, picking up older kids from school and everything else they will end up doing during the day.

There's also the additional element of sickness. Children get sick. A lot.  Elderly people are as at risk from illnesses such as severe flu, pneumonia and shingles (from the chickenpox virus) as young children, so it's a good idea to come up with a sickness policy. Perhaps if you look at it like you would if your child was in long day care: If your child was sick he or she would not be allowed to go into child care. So if your child is sick at home, you should probably give your parents sick leave too.

Having grandparents as carers can also be an emotional nightmare – the odd babysitting is one thing – you can overlook different parenting styles, expectations and the discipline issue, but when they're full or part time carers on a regular basis, it's something else entirely.

There's also the money issue. Should you be paying your parents to care for your kids? What are the implications for you and your parents?  They probably won't be earning enough from you to compromise their pension and on the bright side, grandparents can register as "carers" with Centrelink, which means that you may then be entitled to receive the child care benefit/rebate. Go to Department of Human Services or to your local Family Assistance or Centrelink office for more information.

All we can say is, if you do decide or need to have grandparents caring for your little ones, set out clear boundaries for things like:
  • Payment/reimbursement of daily expenses
  • Discipline
  • Sleeping and feeding routines
  • TV
  • What to do when they're sick
Sophie CrossSophie Cross is a public relations consultant and writer who has publicised and written about everything from makeup to The Muppets, child care to celebrity chefs and perfume to Partners in Population and Development! Originally from the UK and as a languages graduate she has worked around the world, living in Australia for the last 11 years where she runs, PR Chicks.

She is sometimes devoted wife of Stu and always devoted mother to Francesca and two cats, with whom she's embarked on her latest adventure, living and working remotely from their little piece of Spanish heaven in Chite, the Lecrin Valley, just south of Granada. And FYI it's pronounced "ch-ee-tay" not shite.

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