"More grandparents are providing child care for their grandchildren," trumpet the headlines, but it's difficult to find statistical proof for this statement. Part of the difficulty is that grandparent child care exists in many forms. These include:
- Grandparents raising grandchildren who are consequently primary providers of child care
- Grandparents who share a residence with grandchildren and their parents and who provide some child care
- Grandparents who are regular full-time child care providers, in lieu of day care or other provisions
- Grandparents who are a part of the child care equation, regularly providing care for part of the work week
- Grandparents who regularly provide before- or after-school care
- Grandparents who provide back-up care when grandchildren are ill or other unusual circumstances occur.
All of these categories are different from the occasional babysitting that most grandparents do. Both grandparents and grandchildren can benefit from more extensive child care arrangements, with the advantages falling into two main categories.
Often grandparents take on child care to ease the financial burden on their children. Commercial day care can be prohibitively expensive, and many grandparents do not charge for the care they provide, or they accept only a minimal amount. However, grandparents should carefully consider the impact that providing child care may have on their personal finances.
Extra expenses can mount up, and a child care commitment may keep grandparents from accepting other employment or from performing home and property maintenance, which they may end up paying for.
Many grandparents refuse regular payment for the child care they provide but are willing to accept gifts and other perks.
Also, the parents of the grandchildren may reciprocate by providing services that the grandparents need, such as lawn care, home maintenance or help with technology.
Advantages for Children
The biggest advantages of grandparent child care fall outside the financial realm. Grandparents can provide personalized care for grandchildren, care provided by someone who loves them. That is a benefit that cannot be quantified.
Research shows that very young children who are cared for by grandparents have better vocabulary skills than those who are in day care with other children. They may, however, lag behind in other skills that are developed cooperatively. Grandparents who provide full-time care can look for opportunities for their grandchildren to interact with others, such as play groups and story hour.
Several studies indicate that grandparent child care may result in a higher rate of obesity for grandchildren. Grandparents should promote healthful eating and also look for ways to encourage the grandchildren to be active.
Advantages for Grandparents
The advantages may be even greater on the grandparents' end. Engaging with grandchildren makes both the brain and the body work harder, resulting in greater fitness.
One study, however, shows that these benefits go away when grandparents provide care five days a week. Some hypothesize that the stress resulting from providing full-time care for grandchildren counteracts the beneficial effects.
The grandchildren's ages are influence how stressful providing child care is for grandparents. Very young children require constant attention, and that can be exhausting for grandparents. Older children are generally easier to care for, but issues with discipline can arise.
A Perfect Solution?
Some feel that the perfect solution is being able to care for grandchildren a day or two a week, with the children going to some type of day care or to another caregiver the other days. Unfortunately, in the United States at least, the system works against such solutions. Day care providers seldom give much if any of a price break for children who need care for three or four days a week rather than five.
Some grandparents find their perfect niche once the children are in school, when the grandparents can provide after-school care. Providing care for an hour or two after school is much less intensive than having full-time responsibility for an infant or toddler. The only downside is that it is still a full-time commitment and can keep grandparents from travel or other activities that they would like to enjoy.
Perhaps it is true that "more" grandparents are providing child care for their grandchildren, but no grandparent should feel pressured to do so. Instead each family should work together to find its ideal solution.