The UK’s so-called grandparent army is working harder than ever before. As childcare costs have risen to a level at which it has become less cost-effective for some parents to work than to stay at home with their children, more than 10 million grandparents have been drafted in to pick up the slack, with 1 in 4 working families now reliant on grandparents to provide childcare.
And, it’s just been revealed that grandparents could be losing out on
a huge £4,500 over the course of 20 years if they take care of a
grandchild instead of undertaking paid work. Mothers who give up
work to care for a child are given certain National Insurance credits –
but if they return to work, these credits can be passed on to other
And these credits can be claimed by grandparents if
they are of working age (under 65), while caring for their grandchild.
The credits could then be worth up to £230 a year when grandparents
actually do retire. Think you may have missed out? You can backdate
claims as far back as 2011 – so what are you waiting for?
Grandparents care for their grandchildren for 8-9 hours a week on average, saving UK parents an estimated £78 billion per year on childcare. Some estimate that childcare provided by a single grandparent over the course of the summer holidays alone could (hypothetically) be worth more than £20,000. 96% of grandparents, of course, receive no payment at all. In fact, one in four contributes to their children’s mortgage (to the tune of £17,000, on average).
Thanks to increases in life expectancy, some of us can expect to be grandparents for more than a third of our lives. But are we expecting (or doing) too much? The financial and personal costs of grandparenting are on the rise. 67% of grandparents look after their grandchildren on a regular basis, with 78,000 children in full-time grandparent care. On average, grandparents spend £400 a year on their grandchildren – financed by savings in almost a fifth of cases, and overdrafts or loans for 5%. Many reduce their own working hours in order to allow their children to continue to work, whilst almost 60% make sacrifices to their social lives in order to care for their grandchildren. The ‘leisure and pleasure’ ideal of grandparenthood has been replaced by the new reality of ‘rescue and repair’, according to academics. For many, the grandparenting remit extends far beyond childcare, with an increasing number of grandparents reporting that they are expected to shop, wash, iron, garden and even carry out household DIY.
The biggest worry for 21% of grandparents, though? Illness. 16% of grandparents avoid their grandchildren when they are ill for fear of catching a cold which could prefigure a more serious illness in an older adult. Their concerns are well-founded – in a survey of 1,000 grandparents with grandchildren under 10, 41% of those who had caught a cold from a grandchild had ended up with a chest infection or pneumonia.
The stresses and strains of juggling work with childcare could leave you at increased risk of infection, so ensure that you are eating well and getting enough sleep. Remember to wash your hands regularly whilst caring for sick grandchildren, and wipe surfaces and door handles with antibacterial wipes after their visit. You could also try wearing a bathrobe over your clothes when handling a sick baby or toddler, taking it off to prepare food, whilst they are napping and when they go home.
Most importantly, though, ensure that you continue to have regular, honest chats with your children in which the needs and expectations of all parties can be discussed. If you don’t feel comfortable caring for your grandchildren when they are ill, explain why. Equally, if you feel that your work or social life are suffering, work together to come up with a solution – don’t suffer in silence. Some families benefit from holding a weekly meeting on Sunday evenings, during which schedules can be synchronised and concerns shared. Remember, whilst you may consider the welfare of your children and grandchildren to be of paramount importance, the preservation of your own identity is key, not just to your own wellbeing, but to that of the family members you care for.