School-gate grans… why everyone benefits!
Grandparents may be the key to happier childcare
As little ones come running out of school, these days it’s not necessarily their mum or dad’s arms that they race into. With both parents likely to be working, more grandparents are doing the school run, providing the care that youngsters need at the start and end of their school day. Out of 14 million grandparents in the UK, five million help with childcare in one way or another, according to Age UK (ageuk.org.uk). ‘Grandparents really love helping out,’ says Sharon Slade, co-founder of The Grandparent Hub( the grand parent hub. com). ‘And they know that often, without their help, their children wouldn’t be able to return to work. It makes them feel valued and brings them real joy.’
But the arrangement may not always run so smoothly. Here, the experts reveal how you can iron out any awkwardness…
QHow do I approach my parents about looking after my children?
A‘Ask away,’ says Jane Fearnleywhittingstall, author of The Good Granny Guide. ‘It may just never have occurred to them to offer. Ask in a way that allows them to say “no” if they don’t want to be involved. However, most grandparents would be quite pleased about spending time with their grandchildren and being trusted to look after them.’ Jane, 79, has six grandchildren aged from eight to 21 and has the youngest one afternoon a week. She says, ‘My daughter-inlaw suggested that it might be lovely for me to look after my granddaughter – and she was right. For me it is a privilege to be involved in her life.’
QHow much is too much to ask?
ALucy Peake, chief executive at Grandparents Plus (grandparentsplus.org. uk) says, ‘Looking after grandchildren should be a joy, not a duty, so it is vital that a grandparent doesn’t find themself over-committing.’
Lucy says there may be a ‘tipping point’ where it could become too much.
‘That point will be different for different people, depending on their health or caring responsibilities at home, and both sides need to recognise this.
Other things like being with their partner, seeing their friends or doing their job shouldn’t suffer as a result.’
Jane echoes this. ‘If they are still working, it might simply be too hard for them to help out. And if they are older, it can be very tiring. One day a
week is enough for me,’ she says.
QWhat’s in it for grandparents?
AWith grandparents estimated to collectively save parents almost £16billion in childcare costs per year, the benefits
‘It’s important to cherish time with your grandchildren – they grow up too quick’
for parents are clear. ‘But Gran can get a lot out of it, too,’ says Jane. ‘Looking after a little one brings back your own memories of childhood. I find myself going on the swings or driving along singing nursery rhymes that I remember from when I was young. It’s nice to pass things like that on. The key for a grandparent is not to do things you don’t want to do. I recently tried origami with my granddaughter and I enjoyed it as much as she did. It’s important to cherish time with your grandchildren – they grow up too quick.’
QWill my children get bored at Gran’s house?
ANo chance! Sharon says, ‘Grandparents are brilliant at coming up with lots of boredom-busting ideas. They help children see the simpler side of life and encourage things that they did in their own childhood, such as making dens or digging up vegetables.’
Grandparents can also give children a real sense of security and understanding of where they come from. By telling them old family stories, they can help children find out about their place in the world.
To make sure that they always have something to do there, agree for some toys and colouring books to be kept at their grandparents’ house.
QShould I pay my parents to look after my children?
AKatharine Hill, UK director at Care for the Family (careforthefamily.org.uk), says, ‘While many grandparents are quite happy to look after their grandchildren for nothing, it’s a good idea to have an open discussion about money and who is expected to pay for what. One common arrangement is for parents to cover expenses, such as the cost of outings. If they won’t agree to this, treating them to a meal out once in a while or buying them a small gift is a nice way to show that their help is appreciated.’
QI’m strict, Gran isn’t. Whose rules are right?
AChildren thrive with consistent boundaries, so make sure that everyone is reading from the same rulebook. Some families go by the principle that Gran’s rules apply in her house and that the parents’ rules apply at home.
Katharine says, ‘It’s widely accepted that it’s a grandparent’s job to spoil their grandchildren, but if this is happening on a regular basis and undermines the boundaries that you have put in
place, it needs to be addressed. Explain that while you appreciate the help they are providing, and that you know their intentions are good, they are your children and your rules need to be respected.’
QCan I expect my parents to do the school run?
AWhen it comes to schools, grandparents have an important part to play. ‘The more grandparents put into school life, the more they will get out,’ says Lucy Peake. ‘If they can volunteer at school or support events, they will feel more of a part of the school community than if they just drop the children off.’
Schools are increasingly recognising that grandparents are a boon to the wider school community as well. ‘At my children’s primary school, they celebrate Grandparents’ Day each October,’ says Lucy. ‘It gives grandparents the opportunity to come in and see the children’s work. One grandmother even runs an after-school sewing club.’
Don’t forget… When grandparents look after grandchildren, it’s important that neither they nor the parents forget their place in the world. Lucy says, ‘Remember that you’re a gran, not a childminder. That is what makes the relationship special.’
• To find out more about grandparents’ rights, visit grandparentsplus.org.uk
of grandparents say they enjoy time spent with their grandchildren and the opportunity to watch them flourish.