Grandparents Caring For Grandchildren
Eighty per-cent of children in the UK are regularly cared for by a grandparent, says The Times, with the result that sixty per-cent of all British childcare is undertaken by grandparents. As payment for grandparents is virtually non-existent (92% receive no remuneration) this is at a saving to the economy of £4 billion a year.
PAYMENT FOR GRANDPARENTS
Many grandparents caring for grandchildren say that they would find the offer of money an affront. But I suspect that this sensitivity would be greatly diminished if the care they gave were to be officially recognised. However, despite the British government’s commitment to getting mothers back to work, there is no statutory right to payment for grandparents looking after grandchildren. Whilst working mothers are entitled to vouchers in part-payment of nursery places, no concession is made for other childcare arrangements.
The money issue is a relatively unimportant factor in many families. What dominates is the relationship itself. It seems from the GoodGranny forum that when it comes to day to day care, differences of opinion on child discipline techniques are rife, and emotions can run high between parents and grandparents. Judging by some of the comments, that’s hardly surprising. Perhaps what’s needed is a grandparents’ guide on how to discipline a child, when that child is not your own.
HOW TO DISCIPLINE YOUR CHILD
Much depends, I suspect, on the relationship between grandparent and parent. I have been fortunate enough to have a deep and meaningful friendship with each of my daughters throughout their adult life. I respect their values. They respect mine. Consequently, they have always taken the line that, when their children were in my care, they were also under my jurisdiction. Having approved the discipline I used in their own childhood, my children trust my methods when it comes to meting out discipline to my grandchildren.
MAKING GROUND RULES
When I took on care of my youngest daughter’s twins, whilst she works two days a week, I made it clear that if I felt it necessary, I would be a ‘smacking grandma’ and joked that if that meant being sent to prison, so be it. That decision met the approval of both parents: my daughter, and my son-in-law. I don’t actually recall ever having smacked my daughters, except the eldest (when she was a teenager) and she laughingly tells me, now, that I broke my best wooden spoon on her bottom. But that isn’t to say that their father didn’t wallop them occasionally, nor that they ever held it against him. If the occasional smack did them no harm, they reason, neither would it do their children any harm.
With the ground rules established, I’m glad to say that I have only once inflicted corporal punishment (in the form of a cupped hand so that humiliation, not pain, was the result) on one of my grandchildren (one of the older ones) – and then in the presence of his mother to whom he was being extremely rude. To this day, we are the best of friends.
Where I would draw the line, is in colluding with a grandchild to flout his parents’ values. I’ve known grandmothers who have deliberately permitted their grandchildren to have forbidden sweets, or watch banned TV programmes, and made it ‘our little secret’. Quite apart from the fact that encouraging children to have secrets from their parents is a dangerous practice (frequently used by paedophiles) it is morally indefensible. One may not agree, wholeheartedly, with the rules imposed by parents, but the wise grandparent does well to remember that these children are not theirs.
GRANDPARENT VISITATION RIGHTS
Grandchildren are a joy – but also a privilege. Much of the heartache expressed by grandparents occurs when they are denied access to their grandchildren. One of my greatest fears, when my daughter died, was that I would lose contact with her son. Grandparent visitation rights were, to the best of my knowledge, non-existent. Any relationship I might establish with my grandson was at the behest of his father. I’m glad to say that I have never had cause for complaint. On the contrary, my daughter’s partner has been more than generous in ensuring a natural and ongoing relationship.
But it has been a two-way affair, in which I have respected his paternal rights. When it came to telling my grandson how his mother lived and died, I first asked his father if he would be happy for me to do so. It was a very precious moment. An experience I wrote of in my novel A Painful Post Mortem. I made a photograph album for my grandson, full of pictures of his mother from babyhood, through childhood, until she was a mother, herself. Beneath each picture I put a caption, relating them to some feature shared by mother and son: a smile; a touch of humour; a little sulk. As I told him of her death, we sat, the two of us, with our arms around each other, and wept. That album, I hope, will be one of his most treasured possessions.
GRANDPARENTS’ CUSTODY RIGHTS
I have been so fortunate. But I know of grandparents who have had to fight tooth and nail for custody of a grandchild whose upbringing might, otherwise, have been seriously at risk. Children whose natural surviving parent is totally unsuitable; children who have been forcibly fostered by strangers.
And as I look back on the years of story-telling, the mad-cap games and frivolity, the exclusive shared recipes and cooking sessions, the surprises made or purchased for mummy or dad, the holidays together, and the phone-calls finishing ‘love you’, I can’t help feeling that there is something unique in caring for your grandchildren. Precious beyond value, full of joy and laughter, life-enhancing without ultimate responsibility – it almost makes having your own children worth while! :)
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