Grandparents looking after grandchildren as my daughter reminded me with some alacrity, has been around since we all lived in caves. When extended families lived in small communities, or even the same house, it was normal practise for family elders, usually the women, to look after the young family members.
Perhaps what is a new slant today, is that although many retirees are more than happy to look after their grand kids from time to time, they didn’t expect to be the key childcare solution. But in the UK there is a 9.8 million-strong Granny daycare contingent who look after grandchildren for an average 8.2 hours a week (saving their children between £1,659 and £2,437 a year). So is it about managing expectations?
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Margie a former teacher, retired last year with her husband after forty years in the classroom with the intention of using her golden years to travel while she was still healthy. Following the birth of her baby, her daughter, a business consultant has asked both sets of grand parents to take little Jonathan one day a week each. Margie has a dilemma. She feels loyalty to her daughter, adores her grandson but also wants to fulfil her own dreams. “This came a little out of the blue and was never discussed with us even before my daughter started her family. I feel torn between wanting to support my daughter in the workplace ( I’m an old 70s feminist) but am struggling because it means my own flexibility is seriously reduced”
Jenna and her partner offer another viewpoint. They retired early and have moved 200 kilometres to live near her son and daughter-in-law so they can offer as much support as they possibly can. “It’s just what families do for each other” she told me. ” We know they will look after us if they have to as we get older”
Jessie, a widow, is at the other end of the spectrum. Based in Canada she regularly winters in Florida. “I have raised and educated my kids to be in a place where they can have successful careers and make strategic choices. Today many young people are not willing to cut back or make do in the short-term. They don’t see that some of the things they take for granted are actually luxuries and they will have to prioritize. They really don’t need designer buggies or international vacations. So although of course I baby sit and help out at weekends or in the school vacation, I have my own life and don’t want to be tied in permanently to looking after my grand children”
Tanvi Gutam: It’s a balancing act
I read that in Asia the extended family was more supportive of working women. Tanvi Gutam, an author on talent management issues and Program Director at Singapore University suggests it’s more complex than that. “A large family like anything else in life has two sides to it. Yes, there is extended emotional-social support but there is also the responsibility of elder care. For instance, Singapore is the fastest aging society in Asia. Plus Asia has its own social norms around tradition and hierarchy which must be observed in families. For instance, women in India may still be responsible for household (even large ones) despite working. Motherhood would be expected to take priority over career in many cases. So it is a balancing act. If you can find the balance then it is a source of great strength.”
Véronique, an HR Manager based in Brussels told me “Belgian schools close on Wednesday afternoons and without my mother’s support I would have to hire someone to cover this gap. There aren’t many people looking for a job one afternoon a week and it’s a difficult slot to fill”
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