These days more mums return to work after having a baby and many parents turn to grandparents for help. Many parents say it is their first choice of childcare, the one they trust the most. One in four working families depends on grandparents for childcare. This ranges from regular childcare for babies and toddlers to dropping off and picking up children from school, to helping out when the children are ill or during the school holidays. It varies widely from every day care to help in emergencies only. While some grandparents who provide childcare are still working, most are retired or no longer working.
How much childcare should I provide?
Establishing a balance of how much childcare to offer can be quite tricky. Looking after your grandchild should be a joy, not a duty. Make sure you commit to what you can do, and acknowledge your limits. If you get tired easily, have a health condition or are looking after someone else as well, make sure you don’t overstretch yourself. The other things which are important to you – being with your partner, seeing your friends, doing your job – shouldn’t suffer as a result.
If you are a parent thinking of asking your parents or parents in law to look after your child, be grateful for what they are willing to do for you and don’t put pressure on them to do more, as this is unfair and likely to lead to them resenting you. Remember that for all kinds of reasons not all grandparents are willing or able to provide care.
To get an idea of what works for some families, click here.
My daughter assumes I will look after the baby when she goes back to work.
It is fair to ask, but not to take this for granted. Parents should respect your life and your freedom to choose. Not all grandparents want to be involved in providing childcare, and it is for you to let them know if that’s how you feel.
If you do choose to look after your grandchildren, it’s important to get the ground rules clear at the start and to make your voice heard before any childcare arrangement begins, otherwise you may feel resentful and they may have come to rely on you. The parents may not have thought about it from your perspective or they may still think of you as you were ten years ago, not now.
What should we discuss with the parents before we start?
Whose rules should we follow, ours or the parents?
Do try and talk about practical issues before you start looking after your grandchild. Having this discussion will be a good way to establish ground rules, as many parents and grandparents worry whose rules should apply when the grandparents are looking after the grandchild.
Remember that children need consistency – though they can accept, for example, that in grandma’s house they take their shoes off and put their own toys away even if this isn’t expected at home.
Who is paying when I look after my grandchild?
Looking after grandchildren incurs costs. There are lots of things to pay for: food, toys, days out, transport fares etc. It is good to have an open discussion about who is expected to pay for what. Do not be afraid to say no to your grandchildren or the parents if an activity is too costly. You should not feel obliged to pay for anything. Remember that the parents are saving a lot of money thanks to you! One idea is to keep a budget to keep track of your outgoings and keep a tab for the parents.
Should I get paid by my son / daughter to look after their child?
This may be an important issue for you to discuss at the outset. One common arrangement is for parents cover the grandparents’ expenses (lunch, outings etc). A minority of parents do pay grandparents for providing childcare, but many grandparents are quite happy to look after their grandchildren for nothing. When that is the case, parents may choose to treat the grandparents to a meal out or small gifts as a way to say thank you.
Legally, they can also give you money if they wish, but if this is a payment for childcare rather than a gift, then you become their employee. An employer-employee relationship entails certain rights and responsibilities including potential tax liability (depending on your total income).
Can my son / daughter claim financial help if I look after my grandchild while they work?
Childcare provided by a relative is generally not eligible for the childcare element of Working Tax Credit or the tax and National Insurance contributions exemptions on employer-supported childcare (childcare vouchers). The only exception is when the relative is a registered childminder and is looking after a child away from the child’s home.
If you would like to become a childminder to look after your own grandchildren, you must also take on other (non-related) children, register with Ofsted and advertise your services publicly. If you are a registered childminder, the parent of the child will be able to pay you with the childcre element of tax credits.
More information about becoming a registered childminder can be found here.
I had to stop working to look after my grandchild, how can I protect my pension?
From 2011/12 the Government has introduced a National Insurance Credit to ensure that grandparents and other relatives of working age who are providing childcare do not lose out on their basic state pension. The credits, called ‘Specified Adult Childcare Credits’ are for anyone who is providing care for a young relative under the age of 12 in order to enable a parent to work. You can get more information and an application form from gov.uk or phone the National Insurance Helpline on 0300 200 3500.
Is it better for my grandchild to be looked after by me or by a childminder / nursery?
Every family has to find the right balance that works for them. Grandparent care has some obvious advantages: trust and love. Also it’s more flexible than daycare. Click here for some information on the pros and cons of different types of childcare.
You should always make sure you find opportunities for your grandchild to mix with other children. The best way to do this is by attending a regular playgroup, where your child will get to know and interact with children the same age.
You should also make sure your grandchild has an adequate level of activity. Driving them around a lot might not be the best way for to get them to get exercise. The evidence shows that children looked after by grandparents may be more likely to be overweight. So get that bicycle or scooter out for them!
Children under 5 who can walk on their own should be physically active for at least three hours a day. This should be spread throughout the day, indoors or outside. Click here for information about how much exercise children should do in order to keep healthy.
Be careful of their diets. It’s easy to overfeed a child, and as the grandparent it is tempting to ‘treat’ a child with too many sugary drinks, sweets, biscuits, cakes, ice cream and other empty calories. Click here for healthy recipes and tips.
Is my relationship with my grandchild going to suffer now that I am responsible for looking after them?
You will have to set clear rules and boundaries but this doesn’t mean your grandchild will love you any less. If those rules and boundaries are applied in a consistent way, they will help your grandchild become a balanced individual who has a clear idea of what is acceptable and what is not.
Being the person who guides a child through that can be tough, especially if the parents of the child have different ideas to your own. The Grandparents Association has some helpful advice on discipline and boundary setting.
I need some ideas for fun things to do with my grandchild.
See our page on fun things to do with children of different age groups.
Your local Family Information Service (FIS) can tell you about local activities and services for children. Find contact details for your local FIS here.
In some places you can find specialised grandparents and toddler groups. The Grandparents Association website gives details of some local groups and has information about how to set up your own grandparent and toddler group.
My daughter is a single mother and relies exclusively on me for childcare. Can we get help?
It is common for grandparents to step in to help when their daughter is a single mum. It can be difficult for you to say no to her, especially if she is on a low income and relies on you so she can work and make ends meet. However, there are some ways for her to get some help.
If your daughter’s child is 3 or 4 years old, they can get 15 hours free nursery education a week. Some 2 year olds are also entitled to free early education. To find out if your grandchild is eligible contact your local Family Information Service.
If your daughter is working, she may be eligible for help with childcare costs through tax credits or childcare vouchers. For more information visit our page on finding childcare.
Visit the Gingerbread website for advice and support for single parents.
I am unsure how to look after my teenage grandchildren
Now that your grandchildren are older, there is no childcare available for them and it may be left to you to keep an eye out for them whilst their parents are at work. You are likely to feel that you do not have the same control over them as when they were smaller, they might go out more with their friends and behave in a way that you do not find acceptable. How do you set boundaries? You may expect them to behave in a certain way when they are with you – for example, you are perfectly entitled to say ‘no swearing’. However, in general it’s a good idea to discuss with the parents what they are allowed to do or not, and try to stick to the same rules – even if you are uncomfortable with the level of freedom they have. It is important for young people of any age to have consistent rules.
For more information on grandparents providing childcare, see our briefing on Work, life and caring. It gives guidance on issues such as what to do when you are also caring for an elderly relative, whose rules to abide by (parents or yours), children who are not disciplined by their parents, and being emotionally blackmailed into doing childcare.