Babysitting your grandkids – can you say no?

Written by Lee Tulloch for Australian Seniors.

I live in one of Australia’s most densely populated neighbourhoods. Once, it was the home of the bohemian and the destitute – now it has been taken over by well-heeled Baby Boomers who have chosen to downsize, swapping spacious suburbia for a more stimulating lifestyle in the inner city, reclaiming the lives they lived when they were younger.

What’s different this time around is who they’re hanging out with – their grandchildren. The parks are full of grandparents pushing prams.

Childcare from the grandparents: is it common?

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows one in four children receive regular childcare from grandparents. “The biggest motivator for many parents is most would prefer their own parent, a blood relation, to look after their children than a stranger,” says Dr James Kirby, lecturer and clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland.

The second motivator is high childcare fees. A Victoria University survey estimates Australian families can pay as much for childcare as for private primary school fees. But what about the grandparents who still work, or want to study, travel or volunteer? This is the first generation of people, especially women, who want and often need to work beyond the prescribed retirement age.

Ramona Koval, who in the space of a few years was blessed with six grandchildren, and has contributed to the new Australian book, Grandmother: Essays by 21st-Century Grandmothers, says she used to feel that she was sacrificing her own career to support her daughters, who had challenging jobs in academia and law.

But she now realises the unexpected upside is the close relationship she has with her grandchildren. “I see it as a real gift. It can be lots of fun, taking them to soccer, hanging out with the teenage girls like a friend. It makes me feel as if I’m connected to the world.”

But if you can’t, or are unwilling, to change your life for your grandchildren, how do you say no to regular babysitting without feeling selfish? “Regardless of how you put it, saying no will come as a disappointment to the parents,” warns Dr Kirby. Being told no as an adult by your parent could bring up some unhappy memories of the past, he says, but there are ways to reduce the intensity of the disappointment.

“Try to be aware of how you are saying no,” he suggests. “Try to say it in a way that recognises that this isn’t the ideal for the parent, but unfortunately you are unable to in this instance.”

It’s a matter of setting boundaries – just as you did when your children were your grandchildren’s age.

Grandparents taking charge

According to an exclusive survey of 5000 of Australia’s over 50s, grandparents today are playing a much bigger role in their grandchildren’s lives. The Australian Seniors Series: Raising Modern Australia survey finds that:

73% of grandparents are regularly involved in taking care of their grandchildren and are on call when needed.

68% agree their grandparents played a smaller grandparent role. 

86% believe there has been an evolution in the role grandparents play.

93% say that caring for grandkids has positive health outcomes.

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