The study found that 33% of grandparents said they provide care for their grandchildren. We know many grandparents help out with caring for grandchildren – often to enable parents to return to work (particularly with the rise of dual-earner households) - but how much pressure is this putting on family relationships?
Below, we hear from both a grandmother and an adult grandchild (unrelated) about their relationships with their grandchildren/grandparent.
First up is grandmother Jan Artingstall, who provides care for her grandchildren while their parents are at work. And while they may exhaust her, she wouldn't change a thing...
Setting the scene, I am 60 years old and run my own counselling practice from home. My husband is even older(!) and runs his business from home too. The days of retiring at 60 and 65 are, for many people, over, and are viewed nostalgically as the 'Good Old Days'.
I have four absolutely gorgeous grandchildren aged from seven years to four months who live only a few miles drive away with their respective parents. They light up my life whenever I see them. I couldn't love them any more. Their smiles, their funny comments, their energy, their innocence, their unconditional love for Grandma all add hugely to my life. We play together, we dress up, bake cakes and visit the park. I won't say they give me a purpose, as I already have a full and busy life, but they bring me great happiness.
Didn't people used to say 'the great thing about grandchildren is that you can enjoy them and then hand them back'? In other words, you could have the best bits and let the parents deal with all the difficult things like sorting out tantrums, discipline, homework et al.
I have friends who look askance at me when I tell them the hours I put in helping my children out with their kids. They have a different philosophy maybe, but when I see my own children and their partners so stressed and tired out as they are at times, I can't help but offer.
Well maybe in the 'Good Old Days'. Today, many modern families seem to need Grandma and Granddad to help out. With both mum and dad having to, or choosing to, work full time these days the grandparents are no longer a nice distraction for the family to visit on a Sunday afternoon for tea. They are indispensible in supporting their own children, in a way that their parents never had to. And this support now often has to come, not from grandparents who are retired, but from grandparents like myself who are still working full time. And it's hard! At 60 I don't have the energy I had at 30. Smiling babies are a joy – crying babies and babies that don't sleep are stressful.
But it's become a necessity of modern living. That said, I have friends who look askance at me when I tell them the hours I put in helping my children out with their kids. They have a different philosophy maybe, but when I see my own children and their partners so stressed and tired out as they are at times, I can't help but offer.
However fraught I may become I would not swap my situation for the world. I have an Australian friend who lives outside Sydney. Her daughter is married and lives in South Manchester. Her son in Munich. She has grandchildren she sees probably twice a year. She doesn't complain but I can only imagine how hard that is.
In short, times have changed. For various reasons of health and logistics neither my parents nor in-laws could help me and my husband out when my kids were small. The difference is, we didn't NEED them to.
Grandparents are a curious entity. They've got carte blanche to smother their grandchildren with as much love as their hearts desire with little or no fear of being tarnished with the clingy tag. They get all the good bits and none of the bad. It's win-win. Or is it?
In theory, yes. But grandparents shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that because they're getting older, or indeed because they are older, they should make less of an effort with their relationships with their grandchildren. I realise it can be difficult – families often become more spread out as the years go by and health can play an issue too - these are obviously important factors. Although they weren't in the case of my granny, and I'm sure my situation isn't an isolated one. She has always been of the opinion that it is the grandchildren's responsibility to do the legwork when it comes to keeping in contact.
I heard from another family member that my granny had wondered why she'd waited so long to get in contact, why she'd shut herself away and missed out on her grandchildren growing up.
Now I'll admit, I go through periods in life when I'm not the most proactive when it comes to my relationships. We all have dips, right? When we're a bit lax on keeping up with family and friends. We've got busy lives. But we shouldn't forget about our grandparents. We must make an effort. And so must they.
My granny recently wrote to me to invite me to her 90th birthday party. I hadn't seen or heard from her in 20 years after she'd fallen out with and become estranged from my father, which then had had a knock on effect on her relationship with me and my sister.
I was surprised to hear from her. I was a bit angry to tell you the truth. She'd made no reference to the past – the things she'd missed, the absence. I thought I'd never see her again but I'd been given an olive branch. I pondered and eventually decided to go.
Even before our estrangement we weren't particularly close, but she was still my grandmother and it was good to see her. She asked me the kind of questions a stranger would ask. I guess we were like strangers. But there was still a bond there. I knew she was pleased to see me and that she was pleased that she'd made the effort to get in touch.
After the party, I heard from another family member that my granny had wondered why she'd waited so long to get in contact, why she'd shut herself away and missed out on her grandchildren growing up. Why?
For any grandparents reading, my message to you is not to take your grandchildren for granted. Of course us grandchildren need to make an effort to keep in contact, to get off our phones for a second and get the bus or train down to see you but, just like any relationship, it works both ways. Don't do what my granny did and miss out on all the good bits. Life's too short.