Grandparents are increasingly being asked to help look after their grandkids. If you’re stressed out by the prospect of childcare, what can you do?
If you’re a grandparent providing some childcare for your grandkids while their parents are working, then you’re not alone. Across the UK, over 9.2 million grandparents spend an average of 8 hours a week looking after their grandchildren, according to insurance provider RIAS.
The survey, carried out in winter 2015, calculated that the amount of childcare provided by grandparents is worth the equivalent of more than £15bn a year, or around £1,700 per family.
Grandparents are increasingly being asked to step in to help out with childcare. RIAS said the number of grandparent childcarers had grown from to 9.2 million from 6.1 million in 2009, while a fifth (19%) of grandparents had seen their childcare roles increase in the last 12 months.
RIAS also found that despite being an average of £400 out of pocket from looking after their grandchildren, the vast majority (96%) of grandparent childminders receive no money whatsoever from parents to cover costs, while six in ten (60%) don’t want any payment.
Coping as a childminder
Feeling like you’re an unpaid childminder? Retiresavvy interviewed Dr Miriam Stoppard about her advice for grandparents.
She says it’s important to make sure both grandparents and parents respect what each other wants from the childcaring relationship.
“It may not be easy to be forthright with your children when you feel pulled in two directions. Your loyalty to them and your grandchildren may feel painfully stretched as you want to help but also want to make time for yourself and your partner.
“But it’s a conversation you have to broach. Without it, you many find your resentment building, especially if your help is taken for granted and goes unacknowledged.”
Dr Stoppard says grandparents also play a very important role in their grandchildren’s development – even if they might not always realise it: “You’re your grandchild’s ideal playmate. You spent years playing with your own children so you know instinctively how to entertain, amuse and join in games. As a grandparent, because of your experience, the life you’ve led, and your range of interests and hobbies, you can stimulate your grandchild in a way that a parent can’t.
“Your grandchild will learn very easily from you, and I’m sure that, like me, you will get huge satisfaction from the hours you spend playing and learning together.”
Top tips for childminding
Don’t let yourself be just childminders – insist on having quality family time
It’s all too easy to end up just seeing your grandchildren when their parents need you to take care of them. To avoid falling into this trap, make sure that you make the effort to see them outside of childminding activities.
This could be anything from popping round for a cuppa (maybe ring ahead), to taking them to the park, to family days out together.
Take a break
Looking after young children can be a joy, but as parents will tell you – and you’ll likely remember from your own parenting days – it’s hard work. If you’re feeling tired and stressed as a result of looking after your grandkids, you have every right to a break every now and then.
Talk to mum and dad about how you feel and try to come to some arrangement that doesn’t leave you exhausted.
Insist on notice, but be flexible
If your own offspring insist on dropping the grandkids off with little or no notice, then perhaps it’s time for a talk?
Be clear that while you like seeing your grandchildren, unless it’s absolutely urgent, you need some notice and prior warning.
Write a Childcare Agreement
If you are providing childcare on a regular basis, you might want to formalise what’s expected of you in a Childcare Agreement. This doesn’t have to be a weighty legal document, but can just be an agreement between you and your their parents covering things like how many days and what times childcare will be provided, activities, limits on TV time and treats, plus other issues like covering expenses for nappies and food.
The Grandparent’s Association has a template that you can use to design your own Childcare Agreements.
Remember, you can say NO!
You’re not a childminder – you’re a grandparent. If you’re asked to babysit or look after the grandchildren and it doesn’t fit with your plans, you can always say no.
Don’t let yourself feel pressured or forced into looking after grandkids if it’s inconvenient (unless of course it’s an emergency).
Grandchildren are a huge source of fun and you should cherish your time with them – they won’t be small forever.
This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.