From easing financial woes to forming close relationships, grandparents can play a vital role in helping to raise children, says Jenny Sherlock.
The perception of grandparents no longer conjures up visions of little old ladies knitting in the corner, nowadays grandparents are often found with a child or several children in tow.
This is due to several factors; the rising cost of childcare, the average age of grandparents is now only 50 and there appears to be a shift in how people think regarding the benefits of living close to their families especially when they start a family of their own.
Siobhan Murray, psychotherapist at Twisting the Jar believes the reason this arrangement works so well lies in the “Tend and Befriend” Theory.
Siobhan explains, “Females produce cortisol and oxytocin (a hormone present at childbirth) during stressful situations and this generates a nurturing instinct. For most women this means that they respond by tending to children and befriending other women rather than the fight or flight response”.
This certainly gives a basis for why grandmothers offer to mind their grandchildren and why mother and Baby groups are becoming increasingly popular. It seems the village mentality of raising children is still alive and well.
It is obvious that having one of your parents care for your children in your absence has its benefits. From close relationships to financial assistance, grandparents can seem like the obvious solution when it comes to childcare.
There is no denying that those cared for by a grandparent generally have strong bonds with them and their relationship with the grandparent can often strengthen the bond between parent and grandparent further. The simple act of regular contact is often enough to maintain relationships and this type of arrangement allows these relationships to grow organically.
Murray, whose own grandmother played a significant role in her upbringing, emphasises relationships and bonds which can be gained from this type of childcare.
She recalls the experiences she shared with her grandmother and the benefit those shared experiences have had on her life.
“Growing up my grandmother became my confidante, we went places together and there was a huge bond and trust between us.”
Many grandparents view caring for grandchildren as an opportunity to do things differently and correct what they would view as parenting mistakes they may have made with their own children.
With all the distractions that come with modern living for most parents, the fact that grandparents often have more time to pause allows their approach to be more nurturing and kind than our lifestyles allow.
Amy McGrath, mother of two, spoke about the benefit to us in terms of having someone we trust look after our children. “They treasure the time they have with them and it’s great for us to have someone so trusted to mind our children”.
Without a doubt, the choice to ask grandparents to mind children is generally due to the financial costs which are incurred in more traditional arrangements such as childminders and creches. With childcare in many areas costing more than the average wage, it is not surprising that people look to family for help.
I am in the fortunate position that my mother looks after my children for half of every week, allowing my costs to be greatly reduced.
For her, there are numerous benefits. “Seeing them all the time allows me to have a good relationship with all of them, it keeps me young and energetic, they all have different and interesting personalities, so I get a different perspective on things. It also allows me to ensure my children get the support as mothers that I never had when they were children.”
The financial burden relieved by having family members provide childcare is undeniable but the arrangement is certainly not without its drawbacks.
Boundaries in terms of parenting styles and practices can often be a bone of contention between grandparents and parents. Grandparents sometimes feel they can do it their own way stating that their own children i.e. the parent in this case “turned out okay”. This can be alleviated to an extent by setting down ground rules at the very beginning to avoid confusion.
According to Murray and the “Tend and Befriend” theory, “Grandparents (grandmothers in particular), can feel obliged to offer help with childrearing”.
When navigating this aspect of childcare, steps should be taken to ensure that they do not feel backed into a corner and that they feel they can say no or opt out of the arrangement if it is not working for them.
My own mum finds minding my children can be tiring, and feels she is obliged to mind them as she is aware that working would be difficult for me financially without her assistance. Although the perceived obligation is there, she does say she would offer even if she didn’t feel obliged to.
Amy thinks that “although the arrangement works for my family overall, it can take from the joy of being a grandparent, it can become a chore and means they are working when on retirement. They probably don’t think that, but it takes a toll on them no doubt”.
Although, there is a huge benefit financially to having grandparent’s assistance with childcare, it is also important to establish where everyone stands in terms of payment as there can be different expectations. If parents have an expectation of free childcare, this should be established at the outset as confusion regarding money can create problems down the road.
Overall, Murray believes that the benefits outweigh the negative aspects.