There’s no denying the role of grandparents has changed a lot on recent times, particularly as the cost of childcare continues to rise and younger generations strive to return to work quicker than before after the arrival of a new-born.
It was a hot topic on Monday’s episode of Studio 10, where the likes of Denise Scott, Angela Bishop, Sarah Harris and Joe Hildebrand spoke about how grandparents are feeling the pressure as they’re increasingly relied on to look after their grandchildren.
“I know people who are in this situation who have custody of at least one grandchild and they’re in their 60s, they’re my age and they’ve got a six-year-old, seven-year-old, and they’re tired,” Scott said. “Really tired and got to worry about money.”
It seems many Boomers are going through the behaviour explained by Scott. Recent research by comparison site Mozo found Australian grandparents are actually contributing the equivalent of $3.94 billion annually in childcare costs by caring for their grandchildren. One in five grandchildren receive some sort of care from their grandparents, with some providing up to 48 hours or the equivalent of $517 worth of childcare costs a month.
Harris said she tries not to lean too heavily on her own in-laws as she believes being a grandparent is meant to be one of the highlights of your life.
“Your kids have been raised, they’ve been sent away to live their own lives and then you start again,” she said.
While some grandparents enjoy their retirement without the burden of child rearing, others feel guilty or pressured into babysitting their grandchildren. Many grandparents are reluctant to give up their freedom to care for their grandchild and it’s a dilemma many Starts at 60 readers have found themselves in.
However, while some of the Studio 10 panellists lamented the pressures placed on grandparents nowadays, Hildebrand argued that in the past it was common for three generations to live under the same roof and that all members of the family would help raise a child.
“There’s an argument that humans were never supposed to just raise their kids on their own,” he said. “It was always meant to be a sort of overseer.”
He said grandparents used to be elders and looked to for wisdom, but it’s not necessarily the case these days. In fact, the recent Mercury Tough Report, which quizzed 1,000 Australians about a range of professions, found being a grandparent these days was tougher than being a politician. It ranked as the fifth toughest job, ahead of being a politician, tradesperson, senior manager or a pilot.
Scott said that she thought it was her parents’ post-war generation that changed this attitude, explaining that her own grandparents were never hands-on when she was a child.
“We saw them a lot, we saw them regularly, but they kind of weren’t around doing the literal looking after,” she said.
Harris added being a grandparent is meant to be special and that it shouldn’t feel like a chore.
“Having a grandparent is a really special, lovely thing and it should be a treat and they shouldn’t feel like it’s a chore,” she said. “They should get excited and enjoy that time.”
The Australian Institute of Family Studies says the role of grandparenting has changed over the last few decades and that grandparents in modern times have more responsibility. In addition to grandmothers being the major child care providers for preschool children because both parents are in the work force, grandparents are also relied on to pick children up from school and look after them during school holidays. The institute says it comes down to the fact that grandparents are now living longer and are healthier and better educated than previous generations.