Grandparents looking after grandchildren: things to think about

If you’re a grandparent living near your grandchildren, you’ll probably be asked to look after your grandchildren from time to time. Like many other grandparents, you might also be asked to provide more regular child care for your grandchildren.

You might love the idea of caring for your grandchildren. Or you might prefer not to do regular child care, but still want to spend time with your grandchildren and support your grandchildren’s parents in other ways. Everyone has different feelings about this situation, and that’s OK.

When you’re thinking about looking after grandchildren, there are a few things to take into account. Being a grandparent is just one part of your life. It’s likely that you’re balancing other commitments like housework, volunteering, hobbies and work. You might also have health, energy or mobility issues that limit what you can take on.

On the other hand, when you spend time with your grandchildren, you can bond with them and be part of their development. Helping your grandchildren’s parents is a great way to deepen relationships with them too.

If your grandchildren’s parents can’t care for them, you might become a grandparent carer. This situation has its challenges, but it has many bonuses too.

If you’re asked to look after grandchildren

If you’re asked to care for grandchildren, your response will probably depend a lot on how you get along with your grandchildren’s parents.

Here are some tips to help you agree on child care arrangements:

  • Be clear about what you can and can’t do. For example, ‘I can’t do 7 am to 6 pm because I get too tired, but I’d love to do an afternoon each week’. If everyone is honest and open, it can help you avoid conflict.
  • Plan for sickness and holidays from the start. You could talk about back-up care for when you or your grandchildren are sick, and when you’re away on holiday.
  • If your grandchildren’s parents are desperate for a break and you can’t help, help with organising other care options. For example, ‘Have you asked Julie’s parents?’ or ‘We could ask Aunty Laura if she could help out this time’.
  • Ask your grandchildren’s parents about your grandchildren’s usual routines and rules. And if you sometimes need to change the rules or routines, check whether it’s OK first.
  • If you’re looking after your grandchildren in your own home, think about rules that will make it easier for you. For example, ‘Please wait for me before you go outside’.
  • If looking after grandchildren late at night is affecting your rest, consider staying at their house overnight or having your grandchildren sleep over at your house.

Sometimes it gets a bit over the top. Last week I did five days with the grandchildren. I was tired by the end of the week and I was ready for a day off.
– Denise, grandmother of three

Grandparent care: issues to discuss

Going on holidays
Sometimes grandparents find that looking after grandchildren makes it difficult for them to go on holidays. If you’re planning a break, giving your grandchildren’s parents plenty of notice can be a big help – it might be hard to replace you!

They could hire a nanny, ask friends or other family members, or take time off work. It could also be a good time for your grandchildren’s family to take a holiday.

Managing grandchildren’s behaviour
Managing grandchildren’s behaviour might sometimes be a challenge, and ideas about children’s behaviour might have changed since your children were young. You can find lots of practical and positive tips in our article on encouraging good behaviour.

If your grandchildren behave in difficult ways, it’s best to talk about it with your grandchildren’s parents. For example, you could ask your grandchildren’s parents about how they handle the behaviour. Conversations about children’s behaviour can be tricky, so staying calm and letting parents know that you weren’t sure what to do is a good idea.

Discipline and your grandchildren
You might want to give advice to your grandchildren’s parents about disciplining your grandchildren, but this isn’t your role. Making decisions about discipline is the right and responsibility of your grandchildren’s parents.

It’s best to ask your grandchildren’s parents how they’d like you to handle discipline situations and follow their lead. Also, if you want to bend the rules, ask if it’s OK. A simple, ‘Do you mind if I let him stay up a bit later?’ or ‘Can I give him some lollies if he’s good?’ can help to avoid misunderstandings.

Money matters
Most grandparents aren’t paid for looking after grandchildren, but it can be expensive. Food, transport and entertainment can all add up. You can talk with your grandchildren’s parents about providing some money, especially if your own finances are tight. You could also talk about using government parenting payments.

When it comes to entertaining grandchildren, it doesn’t have to cost the earth. Often, you can turn ordinary things around the house into homemade toys and free activities and have just as much fun.

If you have a partner, it’s worth thinking about how you might be able to share the job of caring for your grandchildren. Grandparent child care is easier if there are two of you, so you can work as a team.