What about us? Grandparent babysitters struggling to juggle life, work and childcare 74



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Grandparents are the most popular providers of childcare in Australia today. This reliance on them exposes weaknesses in current labour market and childcare policies.

Increasing workforce participation by mothers and older people have been the dual goals of policy for some time, particularly as the population ages. What is overlooked is that these policy priorities place increasing, and competing, pressures on one group of older Australians – grandparents who provide childcare.

Boosting workforce participation among women and older people is essential to Australia’s future prosperity, according to the 2015 Intergenerational Report. In a speech the week before its release, the then-treasurer, Joe Hockey, said:

How can we contribute more and get more from a nation that has given us much over such a long period of time?

Increasing the workforce participation of women and older Australians, Hockey said, can provide a huge boost to our economy.

But that participation depends heavily on the childcare that grandparents provide. In 2014, approximately 837,000 children received childcare from their grandparents. This is many more children than in any other form of care, including long day care or before- and after-school care. Grandmothers provided most of this childcare.

Increased maternal labour market participation, coupled with a lack of affordable and available formal childcare, is likely to result in continued reliance on grandparents for childcare.

At the same time, measures to boost employment and delay retirement among mature-age Australians place pressure on many grandparents to work longer and harder. The former policy priority places pressure on grandparents to provide more care; the latter asks them to undertake more work.

Grandparents reorganise own working lives

How do grandparents perceive and navigate the twin demands of childcare provider and mature-age worker? New research I conducted with my colleague Bridget Jenkins for the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre suggests that many grandparents who regularly care for their grandchildren reorganise their working lives considerably to do so.

Among those surveyed, 70% altered the days or shifts they work, 55% reduced their working hours and 18% even changed their job because of their caring commitment. In addition, grandparents regularly accommodate atypical, short-notice requests for care – such as when a child is sick or a parent is suddenly called into work.

Their care commitments also affect the way they use their workplace entitlements. Many organise their leave or request flexible work arrangements to accommodate the care of grandchildren. More than 40% reported finding it difficult to juggle the competing demands of work and care.

One-third of grandparents surveyed also reported that their childcare commitment changed the timing or expected timing of their retirement. For many others, while providing regular childcare is not the only factor, it figures heavily in shaping their decision to retire.

Significantly, most grandparents said they provided this care, and adjusted their work accordingly, to enable their children, particularly daughters and daughters-in-law, to participate in work.

The dual policy priorities of boosting paid work among mothers and older people therefore create tensions for grandparents faced with competing demands. Many go to considerable lengths to be able to provide the care their children require while also remaining in work. Grandmothers, who provide most of the childcare, probably feel these tensions most strongly.

The research also revealed an “intergenerational trade-off” that challenges these dual policy priorities. This trade-off is heavily gendered. Mature-age grandparents, mostly grandmothers, are adjusting or reducing their own workforce participation to help their daughters and daughters-in-law participate in the workforce.

In other words, one generation of women is reducing their workforce participation to support the participation of another.

A massive policy blindspot

In spite of the huge contribution grandparents make in supporting families to work, and the considerable impacts this has on their own patterns of work, the 2015 Intergenerational Report completely overlooked grandparent childcare. Nor was it acknowledged in public discussion of the report, or in any previous intergenerational report.

The role of grandparents in childcare is also invisible in all of the most relevant policy spheres. This affects not just maternal and mature-age employment policy but early childhood education and care and retirement incomes policies too.

As a result, current policy is blind to the potential intergenerational impacts of meeting the desired goals. If we achieve the 2015 Intergenerational Report’s objective of boosting workforce participation by both mothers and grandparents, what will be the implications for childcare demand and supply?

What’s more, policy is being formulated on the basis of incomplete information about the conditions facing Australian families and shaping their decisions about work and childcare.

Recognising the importance of childcare provision in the work and retirement decisions of grandparents is essential in the design of effective mature-age employment and retirement incomes policies. And understanding the role that grandparents play in families’ decisions about work and childcare is essential to the design of effective maternal employment and childcare policies.

In a ministerial statement on the 2015 Intergenerational Report, Hockey said:

The Intergenerational Report is the social compact between the generations – children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents and each other.

Grandparents are central to Australia’s social compact. They make a fundamental contribution to families and to our social and economic fabric. It’s time to recognise what grandparents do and to adjust policy frameworks to account for their important role.

The Conversation

By Myra Hamilton, Research Fellow in Social Policy, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Do you babysit your grandchildren? Do you find it a struggle to balance your other commitments?

Guest Contributor

  1. unfortunately im too crippled to baby sit, however her other nanny should be paid for her efforts

    4 REPLY
    • Yes she should be paid , but by the child’s parents NOT the government for goodness sake…..that is just crazy..I’m a grandparent and I do it for love not for money as did my mother before me.

    • What mum are you talking about Julie that has ” issues”.if you don’t say that when you are making comments how are people to know. It’s not about being judgemental , it’s about whether the government should pay,so don’t be so rude it is you that is judging me because I have an opinion so take it easy you know nothing about me or my “issues”

  2. Grandparents have looked after their grandchildren for a long time. What the hell has it got to do with the government? If this is one of the most important things for politicians we really must live in UTOPIA. Have a real look at what the majority of people want and truly represent them.

  3. What this article has not mentioned is that a lot of these grandparents also have aged parents that need caring for. Talk about overload. Huge social problems and upheaval ahead.

    2 REPLY
    • Well said. I am 66 and still working. Last week l cut ba c k from 4 days to 2 days a week and cannot believe the difference this has made to my life. Hubby works full time so l spend time with his parents who live in a high care facility taking them for appointments etc and bringimg them home on weekends for 4 hours. I also help with grandchildren when l can including school holidays. Its just what we do. Het on with what needs to be done. Love my very busy life.

  4. I have had to give up work as I am raising my grandchildren. I am now classed as a dole bludger after working and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes.

    6 REPLY
    • Most of the people I have to deal with. I have 2 degrees and many other qualifications but am treated like a leper now. Very hard to deal with.

    • Ellie you need to be told what a great job you are doing. These people being so disrespectful are not decent human beings and need to be completely ignored.

    • Ellie how simply awful to be classed this way when you are doing a commendable job of raising your grand children. They must be very ignorant people.

    • Profesdionals, schools, doctors. They assume that as a carer I am ill-educated. I am not alone. I have spoken to many others in the same situation. I have had to resort to stating my qualifications when I meet new people. I hate that. Grandparents used to get automatic respect. We have lost the value of the elders.

  5. Most grandparent look after their grandchildren because we enjoy it, (it’s not compulsory for us to do so),it up to the grandparents to say how much time they can give babysitting, it’s your choice to make on the amount of time offered, & what a wonderful way to spend spare time.

    2 REPLY
    • I work five days a week and just love the weekends when I babysit my beautiful grandaughter who is 2 years old – Sure I get tired sometimes but don’t we all whether we are babysitting or not? I would NEVER expect any monetary payment but my wonderful son and his beautiful wife will shout us out to dinner in appreciation – I seriously couldn’t imagine my weekends without my beautiful grandaughter

  6. When my children were minded (part time) it was my sister in law who had them. Along with up to 15 other kids in her back yard. We all paid for this & she earned as well. May I say that never at any time was there injury, neglect or anything negative in the 15 or so years that she cared for kids

  7. I used look after my eldest grandson 2 o3 days per week. Now Ì’m much older cannot handle the little ones anymore…at least not for as long

  8. What about grandparents who look after their grand children full time because there children can’t or wont because of drugs death illness they need a little financial help

    4 REPLY
    • A dear friend raised her granddaughter due to the mother’s death. She got assistance but it’s been a hard road with a lot of heartache. All good now but wasn’t easy!

    • many grandparents are not only child minders but are also providing care for their own elderly parents. This huge contribution to the community deserves recognition and support, we have worked hard saved hard and yet these days we are characterized as a burden on society once over 60, so unfair so untrue!

    • The grandparents have a pension or income But with yhe young they only get family allowance..But looking after elderly should be rewarded as it saves staffing nursing homes and very hard to get into.Some I wouldn’t leave a dog in. .The facilities are so bad

  9. My lawn bowls day which started today and my indoor bowls during the winter is the only day I insist Is my day, otherwise I am happy to do what I can to help. All at school now so just school pick ups a couple of days a week, and the occasional sleep over.

  10. Yes, and was penalised and criticised in my work place for taking any leave entitlements and for requesting part time, which was denied. This was working in a govt department so the Govt on one hand want you to work longer but don’t support grandparents, I can assure you. A lot of talk but in reality it’s a joke

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