Are your parents up to the job of carer?

And have you agreed the boundaries?

One in four grandparents are looking after their grandchildren on at least a part-time basis. They have become a generation of carers. With the cost of child care, the lack of places, and if you have a parent who’s retired, willing and available to step up to the task, it’s easy to jump in and accept their offer to “help out” without thinking the situation through completely. 

Of course it can be hugely rewarding for all those concerned, as long as you consider the grandparent in terms of mental and physical health and abilities, and as long as you set some clear boundaries for the arrangement.

The benefits for you and your children are clear, but you need to consider the advantages and disadvantages for your parents too.

The benefits

  • Relationship building between grandparents and grandchildren – many grandparents don’t see their grandchildren much at all. And this is a great shame for both grandparents and young children alike.
  • Company – grandparents love spending time with their grandchildren and it can be great company for them. But, if they spend their entire week with them rather than with their friends and peers, it can potentially be quite lonely.
  • Cognitive and physical wellbeing. Studies have shown that grandparent carers looking after children for up to 15 hours a week are physically fitter and healthier, as long as they don’t overdo it. Health benefits decrease when caring duties go beyond 15 hours a week. While a Melbourne University study showed that post-menopausal women who take care of their grandchildren one day a week had better memory and faster cognitive speed than those who didn’t – factors which can lessen the likelihood of someone developing Alzheimer’s Disease.

The disadvantages

  • Conflict between grandparents and parents: Differing opinions about child rearing and other rules can often lead to conflict between grandparents and their own children. Also you have to know where to draw the line before grand-parenting stops being a joy for them and starts being a drudge. You need to avoid resentment kicking in.
  • Depression: According to a recent study found that 20 per cent of grandparents who are responsible for caring for young children 30 or more hours a week meet the criteria for clinical depression. You need to make sure you’re looking out for this and supporting your parents.
  • Exhaustion: Grandparents are older. They don’t move as quickly and they get tired easily. Looking after small children is tiring for the fittest and youngest parents, so for grandparents it can be completely exhausting. Make sure you keep an eye on your parents. They are unlikely to complain and may push themselves too far. So don’t ask too much from them.

Setting the boundaries

In an interview with SAGA Magazine, grandparent carer, Brenda Leece said: “It is hugely rewarding, but you must have a good relationship with your children to stop it becoming a drudge. And it’s a long day”.

“It is fun”, says Brenda. “You get to know your grandchildren better, and they get to know you”. It is potentially an ideal arrangement for mum as well…but all sides have to know where they stand if the fun is not to turn into a nightmare. What a shame if you came to dread the morning visit. Boundaries must be discussed and made clear to both parties.

Striking a balance

The article said that it’s important that “Granny doesn’t feel exploited, or that she is just a convenient dumping-ground for the kids when mum is at work”.

It’s important to acknowledge that with the best will in the world, grandparents are making a big sacrifice and a big commitment, at a time in their lives when they could actually do with a bit of rest.

At the end of the day if you’re considering grandparent as a carer, you have to be able to ask the question, is he or she really the best choice?

  • Are the grandparents physically up to the job? Can they manage the stroller, the lifting and the physical activity involved in caring for a small child?
  • Are the grandparents mentally up to the job? Will they be able to handle the emotional challenges of dealing with a small child?
  • Would a regular child care commitment impinge on their lifestyle and personal commitments leading to feelings of resentment?

If the answer is yes, then sit down together and work out the ground rules of the arrangement. It’s important for everyone to have a very clear idea about expectations.

Discussions to include:

  • How much care the grandparents will provide and be specific with days and times.
  • Where the care will take place – theirs or yours? What house rules will apply, does the house need baby-proofing and what supplies are needed.
  • How will you compensate them? Although some grandparents may be willing to provide child care for free, for others it may be a case of having to stop work in order to do so. In this case you should look at some form of payment. You should also consider a reimbursement or petty cash system for any expenses such as petrol, entertainment and outings etc.
  • Parenting rules. Yes, the grandparent may have done it before and yes, there will be some ebb and flow in terms of parenting ideas, but grandparents need to acknowledge that these are your children and largely therefore parenting should be by your rules…otherwise confusion will set in closely followed by arguments! These rules may include food, sleep, discipline, crying, activities and downtime. You may need to accept compromise in order to make this relationship work.

Try not to dwell on any disagreements and focus on the positive. You both have the child’s best interest at heart and as long as you maintain good lines of communication with your family member then the care arrangement should be successful.

For our full article on successfully using grandparents as carers, click here.

Written and published for on May 27 2015

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