You might adore spending time with your grandchildren. Perhaps there are others in your life that you care for? Don’t forget to leave some time aside - just for you.
Raising a family is equally the most rewarding and demanding of all jobs. So once the kids have flown the nest to start their own brood, many people can pursue other interests or hobbies because their time is their own again, right?
Well, not quite, because many grandparents find themselves taking up important caring roles for the youngest members of the family.
In fact, in a 2022 study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, two in five grandparents with a grandchild aged under 13 years were providing some childcare1 .
Most often, they do it to support parents’ work. Grandparents’ desire to connect and build relationships with grandchildren and family was fundamental to them taking on this childcare.
Providing childcare was typically a positive experience for grandparents (97% reported they enjoy providing the care). Caring for grandchildren was seen to be centred on family relationships and connections. Even when child care was reported to be tiring, some also found it energising.
Challenges with caring
Some grandparents who participated in the research reported on challenges of providing childcare. Speaking up when requests for childcare were too demanding or too disruptive appeared be an important factor in protecting the wellbeing of grandparents who participated in the study.
Barriers to grandparent care were apparent across some domains: distance, breakdown in family relationships, child’s age, and personal barriers such as age, health, and having other caring or employment commitments. Distance mattered even more within the context of COVID 19.
However, there was strong disagreement that grandparents were resentful about being asked or expected to care for their grandchildren.
"I enjoy it very much and they are always pleased to have me care for them. It's a wonderful time watching them grow up and learn things."
"Although tiring, caring for our grandchildren is the most joyful and meaningful activity we have, the time we didn't have as parents, we now have to care for and enjoy our grandchildren. We are also aware this is a window of opportunity of about five years in each child's lives before they branch out into the wider world."
Others highlighted challenges or barriers to providing childcare. This included reference to grandparents' age, impacts of health, caring or work responsibilities, or difficulties managing more intensive care needs. For example:
"I wish we could provide more childcare but due to husband's disability we are unable to. Grandchildren have no other family supports at all."
"I would love to see her more frequently, but when not in lockdown I am working at every possible moment in casual jobs to pay my bills."
Grandparent supervision is often regarded as the ‘next best thing’ to parental care. Parents value the closer intergenerational relationships, while the majority of grandparents derive great satisfaction from the role.
The COVID pandemic also showed Australia just how integral grandparent care is to functioning economy.
According to National Seniors Australia 2020 report Australian Grandparents Care, “the COVID crisis has spotlighted the significant workforce that grandparents provide through the impacts observed when they cannot do it. This report finds that grandparenting motivations are not mercenary but all about contributions to family and society. This provides a significant, free economic benefit which is not a burden on the government. As the COVID crisis has shown, if this free support is stopped, the burden shifts back to businesses and government. The obvious choice then is to sustain and nurture it and maintain the intergenerational solidarity we have had through the COVID-19 crisis2.”
The Grandparents and Childcare in Australia survey found 97% of grandparents reported that they enjoy providing care, with 94% saying providing childcare increases their connectedness to family and adds meaning to their life.
According to the Australian parenting website raisingchildren.net.au, it’s important to balance your caring responsibilities with looking after yourself3.
As a grandparent, looking after yourself can give you the energy you need to raise the child in your care.
Looking after yourself involves:
They also recommend making time for yourself. Even 15 minutes each day doing something you enjoy will help.
Here are some ideas:
Try reminding yourself that you’ve earned it and remember – it doesn’t matter what you do with your time, as long as it’s something you enjoy.
1 Baxter, J. (2022). Grandparents and childcare in Australia. (Families in Australia Survey report). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. https://aifs.gov.au/sites/default/files/2022-07/Grandparents%20and%20child%20care%20in%20Australia_0.pdf. © Commonwealth of Australia 2022
2 National Seniors Australia, Australian Grandparents Care Report, May 2020, https://nationalseniors.com.au/research/health-and-aged-care/australian-grandparents-care
3 Raisingchildren.net.au, “Grandparent carers and kinship carers: looking after yourself”, 31/12/2022. Extracted 27/6/2023, https://raisingchildren.net.au/grown-ups/grandparents/grandparent-kinship-carers/grandparent-kinship-carers-looking-after-yourself