A grand old time with the grand­chil­dren

Ex­pe­ri­enced and flex­i­ble, grand­par­ents are in high de­mand as child­min­ders. It’s a win-win role that can add years to their lives,

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude - says Mar­garet Jen­nings

WE have a phrase for it now — the grand­par­ent army — and it de­scribes the ris­ing num­ber of older peo­ple who are help­ing to mind their chil­dren’s chil­dren.

In Ire­land, an in­creas­ing num­ber of us are join­ing the troops, either out of ne­ces­sity (to res­cue cash-strapped young par­ents), or out of choice (sim­ply be­cause we can).

The most up-to-date in­di­ca­tion of this is given by grand­moth­ers who par­tic­i­pated in the study, To­day’s Mum, which fea­tures else­where in this edi­tion of Feel­good.

A whop­ping 61% of them said they be­lieve their daugh­ters are more de­pen­dent on them than they them­selves were on their mums.

But it’s not just grans who are help­ing out with the next gen­er­a­tion.

As we now live longer and have more vi­tal lives post-re­tire­ment in Ire­land, both grand­par­ents are lend­ing a hand.

“Dur­ing the re­ces­sion, grand­par­ents stepped in for their chil­dren who couldn’t af­ford child­care, be­cause money was so tight. And, now that we are out of that pe­riod, it con­tin­ues, be­cause the par­ents have got back to work and there are huge crèche fees,” says Dr Pa­trick Ryan, head of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick.

Re­search from TILDA (The Ir­ish Lon­gi­tu­di­nal Study on Age­ing), in 2015, found that 60% of Ir­ish grand­par­ents had looked af­ter their grand­chil­dren in the pre­vi­ous month. Of those, 15% had clocked up more than 60 hours of child­care.

One of the ben­e­fits for grand­par­ents is that child­mind­ing might ex­tend their lives. Re­searchers who stud­ied a data­base of peo­ple aged 70 or older, from the Ber­lin Age­ing Study (BASE), found that those who pro­vided part-time care for grand­chil­dren had a 37% lower mor­tal­ity risk than those of the same age who didn’t.

But grand­par­ents who take care of grand­chil­dren full-time can be­come stressed, ac­cord­ing to the TILDA re­search. Those who pro­vided more than 60 hours of child­care a week ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cantly more de­pres­sive symp­toms, al­though the ef­fect was mod­er­ated by how much they par­tic­i­pated oth­er­wise in so­cial and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, an as­pect that is im­por­tant for age­ing healthily.

To keep stress — and, frankly, re­sent­ment, at bay — it’s nec­es­sary to lay out the ground rules be­tween grand­par­ents and their adult chil­dren on sev­eral is­sues, Ryan tells Feel­good.

“I think it’s al­ways about throw­ing out on the ta­ble, clearly from the start, what you’d like and check­ing what’s pos­si­ble. So, if mum or dad want their chil­dren to eat raw car­rot and let­tuce for lunch, and granny and grand­dad think it should be some­thing else, well, this needs to be thrashed out,” he says.

“Just like grand­par­ents can’t ex­pect all their rules will be fol­lowed, equally, par­ents have to know that grand­par­ents have a say — if they are go­ing to in­vite them in as kitchen car­ers. Par­ents need to be aware that there has to be some flex­i­bil­ity — you give up some of the free­dom to be in con­trol, when you hand your child to some­body else. That isn’t the prob­lem; the prob­lem is when you don’t ne­go­ti­ate.”

Those bound­ary is­sues ex­tend to re­spect­ing grand­par­ents’ own in­de­pen­dent lives, also. “Like with any child­min­der, par­ents also need to re­spect that if granny or grand­dad say they need to fin­ish up by 6pm, be­cause they have an­other com­mit­ment at that time, then 6pm it is. You can’t turn up at 6.40pm. That’s the sort of stuff that be­comes prob­lem­atic, so it’s about be­ing adult about it, hav­ing the flex­i­bil­ity and the trust that comes in this re­la­tion­ship with grand­par­ents, but also be­ing clear on the bound­aries.”

Clar­ity is es­pe­cially needed about fi­nances, also.

“There are no hard-and-fast rules for how this should be done, whether child­mind­ing should be paid for or not,” says Col­man Noc­tor, a child and ado­les­cent psy­chother­a­pist with St Pa­trick’s Men­tal Health Ser­vices. “You don’t want to take ad­van­tage of grand­par­ent gen­eros­ity and, on the flip side, grand­par­ents of­ten don’t want to be seen as em­ploy­ees.

“Over­all, I be­lieve, though, that if it is a mu­tual agree­ment and all par­ties are con­tent, this can be a re­ally won­der­ful ar­range­ment for the par­ents, chil­dren, and grand­par­ents.”

For par­ents of young chil­dren jug­gling life and all its stres­sors, grand­par­ents can pro­vide psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port, as well as prac­ti­cal, says Ryan.

“They bring wis­dom of life ex­pe­ri­ence; they don’t get as pan­icked or stressed with young chil­dren, be­cause they’ve worn the Tshirt and know that, by and large, chil­dren are re­silient. They’re also able to do it, be­cause they can step away from the im­me­di­acy of the fam­ily.

“Grand­par­ents should be seen as men­tors more than min­ders to the grand­chil­dren. They can ed­u­cate, teach, and guide — it’s not just about putting the din­ner in front of them and get­ting home­work done, it’s ac­tu­ally much more valu­able than that,” he adds.

“It’s a huge de­mo­graphic re­ward we now have, as a re­sult of longevity, a re­source that needs to be tapped into.”

Pic­ture: iStock

ON THE RIGHT PATH: Grand­par­ents play an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in help­ing to raise their chil­dren’s chil­dren.

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