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Childcare - is too much expected of grandparents?

One in five grandparents who provide childcare have given up work or reduced their working hours to do so, and 13% of grandparents say turning down childcare requests has led to arguments with or estrangement from their children or children-in-law.


A survey of over 1,600 Gransnet users has revealed the impacts of childcare commitments on grandparents in the UK, and the tensions that can arise within families as a result.

  • Over half (51%) of respondents say they regularly look after their grandchildren all year round.
  • A further 10% say they help out during school holidays.
  • Of 'grandcarers' - those who say they provide regular childcare for their grandchildren - 21% say they have either given up work or reduced their working hours in order to do so.
  • 27% of those who have given up work or reduced their hours say they have become financially unstable as a result.


How often do grandparents provide childcare?

It is a one- or two-days-a-week commitment for most (56% of grandcarers), but 7% say they provide childcare five days a week.

84% of grandcarers are looking after one or two grandchildren, while a brave 3% are looking after four or more at a time.


What's the cost?

It's not cheap: 57% of grandcarers say they spend up to £20 a day in term time, and 64% say they spend that much in the school holidays. 12% of grandcarers say they are exhausted, or that childcare has had an adverse effect on their physical health.


Is there conflict over childcare expectations?

"I was unable [to do childcare] as my husband was dying. My daughter reported me to social services." - survey respondent

The demands of grandcaring and the needs of working parents lead to tensions and conflict in some families. 8% of grandparents surveyed said that their decision to turn down a childcare request from their child or child-in-law led to an argument or temporary breakdown in communication, with a further 5% saying the relationship had become permanently strained or that they were entirely estranged as a result.

Thankfully, 70% of those who had turned down a request said their children and children-in-law understood their reasons and were fine with it.


Are the parents to blame?

Parents’ timekeeping is one of the biggest gripes for grandcarers, with 24% saying that it causes tension, followed by the amount of screen time children are allowed, cited by 18%.

14% say there has been conflict or awkwardness with parents over the amount of childcare they provide for grandchildren from a different branch of the family, and 11% say they have been told they have to 'even things up' by matching the amount of time they spend providing childcare for other grandchildren.


What else are grandparents helping out with?

It’s not just childcare that grandparents are helping out with, as 84% say they help financially with items including toys and games (42%), and clothes including school uniform (17%), coats (13%) and other clothing (37%). And a quarter (25%) help with holidays or have a savings account for them (23%).

Other expenses they say they help out with include speech therapy, school dinner money and even the parents’ mortgage.


Gransnet Editor Cari Rosen said: "It’s clear grandparents provide lots of valuable help to parents where they can. Gransnet users say that the trick to making this sort of childcare work is for everyone to be really clear about their expectations. Grandparents certainly shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if they realise they’ve taken on too much."


Survey of 1,694 Gransnet users, between 4th June and 19th July 2018, open to all those with a grandchild aged 0-18 years. The data is not weighted.

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