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Should grandparents provide childcare?

grandmother reading to grandchildren

Regularly looking after the grandchildren? You're not alone. The amount of childcare grandparents provide for their families has risen sharply over the last decade. Whichever measure you take - number of children looked after by grandparents, hours put in, or value to the economy - the trend is sharply upwards, and grandparents are now estimated to be saving Britain £17 billion in childcare.

This is an oft discussed issue on the Gransnet forums. On the whole, grandparents want to be helpful, and with the rising costs of childcare parents are struggling to make ends meet. But, at a time when life should be slowing down, taking care of young children can be a big - and exhausting - commitment.

If you find yourself in the position of being asked to help out with childcare, here are some important things you should consider.


Read the results of our latest childcare survey of over 1,600 grandparents


Childcare and health issues

Research shows that providing childcare for up to 15 hours per week can actually help grandparents stay fitter and healthier, even going to far as to suggest that looking after grandchildren lowers the risk of developing Alzheimer's. But that's not the case for more than a few grandparents, and it's vital that you assess how many hours you can cope with, especially if you have a pre-existing condition.

"If one of my daughters wanted me to do this, I would feel privileged to be such a close part of my grandchildren's lives, but I would worry about having the health and energy to do the job well regularly." 

"It was when I hit 60 that I started to find myself getting very tired, and I don't think my daughter picked up on it until it was too late. Sometimes the closer you are as mother and daughter the worse it gets when it goes wrong." 

"Isn't it remarkable how many of our children think of their parents (particularly mothers) as superhuman? It can come as a shock when they discover the truth..." 


Is it fair to expect grandparents to provide childcare?

The overwhelming feeling among gransnetters is that grandparents are happy to help however they can, but are occasionally left feeling that too much is expected of them and that they are taken for granted. On some occasions, users have even reported falling out with their children when requests for childcare are not met. It's important to be up front from the start about what you can and can't handle, but remember - although you love your grandchildren, they are not your responsibility.

"I told a slightly startled son-in-law last week that any child not collected from our house by 5pm would be fed double espressos and given a kitten to take home. I'm fed up of them arriving later and later to pick the grandchildren up without even a phone call."

"My daughter and her other half have five children between them, aged 15 months to 13 years. I have been asked to have them all once a month for a weekend - every month - so they can get away for a break. I did it once recently and was exhausted and said never again. I am now accused of letting my daughter down and that I'm always changing my mind."


How many hours of childcare should grandparents provide?

little girl sitting on wall

It's hard to say no when you see your children in financial hardship, but it's important not to agree on more time than you can handle. Find out what's right for you and discuss this with your children so everyone is on the same page when it comes to how many hours you'll be putting in. 

"I look after my grandsons two afternoons a week. Often I also have my granddaughter, their cousin, who is a similar age. I find that an easier arrangement as they play with each other now they are older!" 

"Spending the two days with me every week is second nature to my grandchildren. They know which days are Grandma's days and they treat my house as their second home. I really wouldn't have it any other way." 

"Working out the time spent on unpaid childcare over the course of each month, I reckon I have four of my six grandchildren in my sole care for about 30 hours a month, not counting the occasional sleepover."  


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Should grandparents be paid for childcare?


Should grandparents, especially those who have given up work themselves in order to help, be compensated for their time? And if so, how much? Our latest childcare survey has revealed that one in five grandparents who provide childcare have given up work or reduced their working hours in order to look after their grandchildren


Grandparents and childcare vouchers

As grandparents aren't regulated care-givers, they are not eligible to be paid using childcare vouchers unfortunately. This is restricted to those who provide regulated childcare, e.g. registered childminders.


Grandparents, childcare and pensions

...but, if you're of working age and are looking after your grandchildren under 12 regularly, you could be eligible to claim National Insurance credits ("grandparents' credit") that contribute towards your future State Pension. More information here

If you are childminding so that the parents can go out to work, they could give up the Child Benefit credits they receive and donate them to you for the previous tax year. Both parties will need to apply for this to be done.

"Make sure Mum isn't out of pocket with anything and keep a look out for her taking on too much and not being able to back out of the agreement if it is not going to plan." 

"Our son and his wife wouldn't be able to afford official childcare. I just asked them to pay me £1 an hour, which gives me a bit of pocket money and also helps me to save for holidays. They provide all his food and I give him drinks." 

"In my opinion, if you are looking after your grandchild so you can help your daughter to have a better life then you don't need paying, so long as there are ground rules. Stick to pick-up times and they provide food and any nappies." 


The real problem

With an ageing population where both parents and grandparents are required to stay at work to make ends meet and pay for pensions, who will pick up the pieces? Is the answer high-quality, affordable childcare? The right to flexible working and time off for grandparents?

"I think it is sad that today's parents do not seem to have a choice like we did. They have to work to pay their mortgage and this puts pressure on them which can affect the family." 

"Ageing parents compound the problem of Grandma being pulled in all directions, and this will get worse as people are living longer." 

"If they (the government) want everyone to work until we drop dead, who is going to provide the childcare of the future?" 

"I only wish that society in general would acknowledge the part we play in keeping parents in work and stop castigating us as an 'ageing population' and a drain on society." 


The stats

The key findings in the report by specialist over 50s insurers, RIAS:


  • 9.1 million now make up Britain's Grandparent Army as the number of grandparent childminders increases by 49% since 2009.
  • On average, grandparents have four grandchildren each.
  • Grandparents spend an average of 9 hours a week looking after their grandchildren, saving parents £1,902 on childcare fees each year.
  • On top of that, grandparents also contribute £9bn annually to clothes, toys and hobbies, pocket money, holidays and savings.
  • 99% of grandparent childminders are not reimbursed for their time, with some giving £88 per month to support their families.
  • Increased workload and pressure to impress employer and get a pay rise (41%) are main reasons for grandparents increasing the amount of childcare provided.
  • Expense of looking after children leads a quarter of grandparents providing childcare to dip into savings (22%) and 7% going into debt.
  • Grandparents in the North West are the most likely to provide childcare, with 74% looking after their grandchildren - they also put the most hours in averaging 12 hours per week.


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