Many families rely on grandparents to survive. The latest 21st Century Grandparenting* report found that 5.8 million grandparents in the UK (47%) provide regular childcare. But nanny and grandad have more to offer than free childcare and babysitting services, as any happy grandchild will tell you. Good grandparents also bring wisdom, experience, patience (who else is prepared to play endless games of 'let's pretend'?), and oodles of love and cuddles. Grandparents get plenty back in return, top of the list being a strong bond with their grandchildren. So if you're lucky enough to have active grandparents, here's how to make it work – for everyone.
Tips for you...
- Be sensitive to age Not many grandparents can provide full-time childcare, five days a week. If you find looking after your kids exhausting, imagine how they will feel!
- Remember that looking after your children costs money Even if it's just helping your parents pay petrol costs, or bunging them the odd tenner towards playzone or toddler swimming session entry, don't assume they can pick up every bill, especially if they're on a limited income. Some families even choose to pay grandparents for their services.
- Don't fume with silent resentment If the grandparents aren't feeding your tot how you'd like, or are too strict about things you'd let go, don't bottle it up until you explode but address issues early, with sensitivity. You could even draw up a little contract outlining the basics, so everyone knows where they stand.
- But don't sweat the small stuff If granny isn't 100% 'on message' about broccoli or treats – but most of what she does is great – let it go. Pick your battles, and credit your parents with some common-sense.
- Your partner's mum and dad... This can work really well if the relationship gels, but many mums find their other half's parents harder to handle than their own. To avoid confrontation, be clear about your expectations (try the written contract idea again), and cut your mother-in-law extra slack. Remember: they love your children as much as you do, so it would be a pity to lose them!
Tips for the grandparents...
- Be positive Don't criticise your grandchildren, or how they're being brought up, however well meant. This cuts to the heart of any parent's self-esteem and will not endear you to them.
- Constructive advice is ok You can gently offer loving, supportive advice though. Just make sure you know where that fine line is before opening your mouth!
- Make yourself useful When you visit, give practical help to the family: put the kettle on; cook dinner; offer to shop or do laundry. Don't just sweep in, grab the baby and sit waiting for cups of tea while mum and dad do all the grunt work.
- Don't outstay your welcome Unless otherwise indicated, leave your son or daughter and their spouse wanting more. Offer to stay longer only if the family seems to be struggling, or actively asks (or begs) you to remain!
- If you're the childcarer Set some ground rules and don't be afraid to push back gently when necessary, or ask for help with expenses. And don't take 'helicopter parents' too seriously (it's the new trend for mums and dads to micro-manage every aspect of their offspring's life). Once they've trotted off to work, what the eye doesn't see... (within reason of course!). Good luck!
*Research commissioned by RIAS and carried out by Opinium between 27-29 June 2011. Total sample size was 2,135 grandparents aged over 50 with at least one grandchild. The survey was carried out online.