The traditional role of a grandparent has been redefined over the last 20 years. According to the 2014 Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Childhood Education and Care Australia report, 836,000 Australian children aged 0–12 years were cared for by a grandparent for an average of 10 hours per week.
Griffith University School of Human Services and Social Work lecturer, Dr Sandra Woodbridge, says “These days, in western culture, grandparents play a more instrumental role, providing support with the household budget, paying school fees and helping out with a grandchild’s daily activities."
Dr Woodbridge says her research shows that although there can be added pressure, expectations and stress on grandparents when taking on the child care duties of their grandchildren, there are many positives for all parties involved. After looking after children of their own, grandparents have confidence in their parenting ability and a clear understanding of what worked and didn’t work during their own parenting journey.
Dr Woodbridge’s research also found that grandparents get a high level of satisfaction from spending quality time with their grandchildren. “Having another person playing an active role in a child’s life can be a very positive thing. They do become another role model for a child,” Dr Woodbridge says.
She says for this type of arrangement to work there needs to be realistic expectations on both sides – from the grandparents and their children – on what their roles are, as well as what their involvement with the grandchildren will be.
“As grandparents, it is a good idea to sit down with your children and talk about what and how you are prepared to help them when they become parents. Look at your own needs and boundaries. What do you both think is a fair and manageable in your lifestyle?” Valerie says.
Valerie says the positives of children spending quality time with their grandparents are that they develop a deep respect for the older generation, as well as an appreciation for their family history. Grandparents can pass on a sense of wisdom and an unconditional love, playing a vital and influential role in a child’s life.
Gold Coast mum Shannan Walker says even before she had given birth to her son, Archer (2), her mother, Missy Van Roon, had offered to help out when needed. From the very early discussions, Shannan says she made sure her mother still had time to enjoy her retirement and that there was open and honest communication.
“I was on maternity leave for a year and always planned on going back to work fulltime. When I fell pregnant, mum had already retired and said she was happy to look after Archer two days a week so that I could return to work,” she says.
“Archer has formed a great relationship with my mum and he just loves his time with nanny. Mum and I really work well together – she’s never pushed her thoughts onto me on how I should raise Archer. I think that is why it works so well.” And Missy Van Roon, retirement has been made that much sweeter by spending her free time with her grandson.
Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) senior researcher Jennifer Baxter has conducted considerable research analysing the trends of child care and the role grandparents play in the upbringing of a child.
Around three in ten Australian parents find it difficult to find care for a child at short notice as well as feel the financial pinch due to the cost of formal care. Jennifer’s research shows that the reason families call upon grandparents to help with their children varies from household to household, however noticeably, a common theme among grandparents is that they enjoyed building a relationship with their grandchildren as well as being actively involved in their lives.
A study by The Women’s Healthy Ageing Project carried out by the The University of Melbourne Department of Medicine also found that grandparents who cared for their grandchildren one day a week may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s. After observing the cognitive function of more than 186 women, researchers found that the grandmothers who care for a grandchild for at least one day a week scored the highest on the tests, with faster cognitive speed and better memory. Researchers believe the regular social interaction had a positive effect on the senior’s mental health. However, they also found that grandparents who spent five or more days caring for grandchildren had lower cognitive performance.
Playgroup Queensland has also recognised the valuable work of grandparents, recently opening their first playgroup for grandparents in Ascot, Brisbane. Already proving extremely popular, the playgroup was established to provide a welcoming place where grandparents could socialise with other grandparents and feel supported, while at the same time providing a safe and fun environment for their grandchildren to play with other children.
For information on grandparent support groups in Queensland, visit Grandparents Information www.grandparentsqld.com.au/program/grandparent-support-groups
To find out if there is a playgroup for grandparents in your area, visit Playgroup Queensland www.playgroupqueensland.com.au