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Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 12

June 2010



Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.

In this edition Jeanne looks at what can be involved when you agree to help look after your grandchildren.

If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at:



When a grandchild arrives you may be asked to help with childcare to give the parents a break or care for the grandchildren when mum and dad are at work. You love your children and want to help them as much as you can. Moreover, you are feeling a rush of love for the new baby. You look forward to being on hand.

Too often, though, what you find yourself agreeing to is not thought out carefully and you find yourself in a situation that could trigger resentment, feeling put upon and feelings of guilt. You may be a grandparent with a full-time job yourself, working part-time or fully retired. You may be asked to do or you offer to do occasional baby sitting or pick up the children after school or take on full care two, three days a week or for the full week. Each situation varies, and in your desire to help the children, you may not have considered sufficiently your own needs.

And if you have a partner, how will he or she feel about the commitment? You might be surprised at how they feel. How often would you feel happy helping—as often as the parents want you to do it? What about the physical arrangements – do they involve a lot of driving or rushing about. Can you afford it? It’s perfectly reasonable to ask for expenses. And your children might not think about that, left to them. What effect would the proposed arrangement have on your own life? Would it fit in with your work? Would you have time to carry on with your own interests?

The leader of a support group posts this report on line: “We have had a few minor victories, when one son said to his mum, “You have X’s children, Monday to Wednesday, so I think it’s only fair you have mine Thursday and Friday!” This meant grandma would have to give up her lunch with friends and keep fit sessions. We all said, “You have to say no, you can’t give up your whole week.”

The next week she came in and said, “I put my foot down, and said no.” “Great!” we all said until she admitted that she had compromised and was going to have all the grandchildren at the beginning of the week so as not to show favouritism to her children. We all said, “presumably you will be exhausted, asleep the remainder of the week.”

When my first grandchild was born, I was recently widowed, had retired from a full time job and was attempting to build a new life. My daughter and son-in-law were sensitive to this. They did ask if I would babysit occasionally and always asked in advance to check if it was convenient. In time though I decided I would like to spend a day a week with the grandchild and then with her and the new baby brother. We would have lunch and plan an excursion each Friday. It was then I began to realise that I wasn’t as physically fit as I thought. It was hard work to fold up the buggy and then carry it and help the two children climb onto the bus. We had to rethink our choice of excursions. Recently though I have noted that the busses have more space for roll on buggies and fewer require you to fold up the buggies and place them in the front rack.

Circumstances do change. Arrangements you agreed on in the beginning may not work out as you grow older. Noel and Sheena were in their seventies when their granddaughter Pia was born. “Our daughter Marjorie was going back to work after six months and we offered to look after Pia, because we didn’t like the idea of her going to a nursery before she was one. It worked well but we had to cut it a bit short, because Sheena developed sciatica. When Pia’s sister was born we did the same, but it was physically harder. By then we weren’t so fit and we had to bring the playroom downstairs. There’s a lot to looking after babies – it’s effectively eleven hours a day: keeping them amused and entertained, running around after them, pushing the pram to the shops or the park…And then you have to use the weekends to catch up on your own chores.”

You may be bouncing with health, but be realistic. That touch of arthritis or tendency to back pain could turn out to be a real problem when you’re lifting heavy infants or toddlers on and off chairs, or bending to fasten shoes and pull up pants.

So, if you go ahead, pace yourself. Try to arrange some respite - perhaps network with their friends’ mums or grandparents and see if you can fix something up. It worked when you were a young family. Just don’t try to do everything their parents do. If there is another set of grandparents. and they are available consider sharing the task between you.

For most grandparents, talking to your son or daughter about how you feel and what you can cope with, being open and honest with them, will help avoid problems. They may not have thought about it from your perspective or they may still think of you as you were ten years ago, not now.

The advice and information website has a childcare agreement that you can download. This takes you through the key things you need to discuss. It will be useful as a guide, too, to keep updating as circumstances change

Resources: The Modern Grandparents’ Guide, by Jackie Highe. Grandparents’ Guide,



Previous articles in the series:


1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent
5. When the parents separate
6. Second time around
7. Who baby-sits?
8. Favouring one grandchild more than the others
9. Should Grandparents who provide child care receive financial assistance
10. A feast for mind and body for you and the grandchildren at half term
11. Jealous grandparents
12. When you agree to help with childcare



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