Grandparents looking after grandchildren: things to think about
If you’re a grandparent living near your grandchild, you’ll probably be asked to look after your grandchild from time to time. Like many other grandparents, you might also be asked to provide more regular child care for your grandchild.
You might love the idea of caring for your grandchild. Or you might prefer not to do regular child care, but still want to spend time with your grandchild and support your grandchild’s parents in other ways. Everyone has different feelings about this situation, and that’s OK.
When you’re thinking about looking after your grandchild, it’s worth remembering that 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 do.
On the other hand, when you spend time with your grandchild, you can bond with them and be part of their development. Helping your grandchild’s parents is a great way to deepen relationships with them too.
If you have a partner, it’s worth thinking about how you might be able to share the job of caring for your grandchild.
If you’re asked to look after your grandchild
If you’re asked to look after your grandchild, these tips can 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 grandchild are sick, and when you’re away on holiday.
- If you work, be clear with your adult children about your work commitments. You might also be able to negotiate flexible working arrangements with your employer or change your hours, if you want to. Remember to leave enough time for your own self-care, leisure and hobbies.
- If you can’t help with child care, you could 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’. Or you could support your grandchild’s parents in other ways, like helping with meals or housework.
- If you’re looking after your grandchild 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 your grandchild late at night is affecting your rest, consider staying at their house overnight or having your grandchild sleep over at your house.
Sometimes it gets a bit over the top. Last week I did 5 days with the grandchildren. I was tired by the end of the week and I was ready for a day off.
– Denise, grandmother of 3
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, it can help to give your grandchild’s parents plenty of notice so they can find someone 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 grandchild’s family to take a holiday.
Rules and routines
Ask your grandchild’s parents about your grandchild’s usual routines and rules. And if you sometimes need to change the rules or routines, first check whether it’s OK. A simple, ‘Do you mind if I let her stay up a bit later?’ or ‘Can I give him some lollies if he behaves well?’ can help to avoid misunderstandings.
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 many practical and positive tips in our article on encouraging good behaviour.
If your grandchild behaves in challenging ways, it’s best to talk about it with your grandchild’s parents. For example, you could ask your grandchild’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.
Most grandparents aren’t paid for looking after grandchildren, but it can be expensive. Food, transport, entertainment and equipment like highchairs can all add up. You can talk with your grandchild’s parents about providing some money, especially if your own finances are tight. Or you could ask them to provide food or equipment for the children. 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 your grandchild’s parents can’t care for them, you might become a grandparent carer. This situation has its challenges, but it has many bonuses too.