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The pros and cons of elderly looking after grandchildren

Millions of older people help care for their offspring's kids, however, there are both upsides and downsides to childcare in later life, as Lisa Salmon finds out

Raising children can be tough - but some lucky parents have their own mums and dads to help them out. Around nine million grandparents help look after their grandchildren, spending an average of more than eight hours a week as childcarers.

And research by the insurance company Ageas shows this saves UK parents a total of £16bn a year in childcare costs, or £1,786 a year per family.

In addition, many grandparents are also supplementing some of the costs of raising a family for parents, by paying for some of the basics like clothing and toys - not just at Christmas and birthdays. Others even stump up for luxuries like holidays for their grandchildren.

But while granny childcare is a great help to parents, what do grandparents get out of it?

Not surprisingly, research by Gransnet has found that while one in six grandparents have taken early retirement or quit paid employment to help out with their grandchildren, 80% of them say their sacrifice is worth it, and more than half (51%) say they're happier now they spend time with their grandchildren.

Gransnet editor Lara Crisp says: "Most grandparents who help out with childcare relish the opportunity to spend more time with their grandchildren and find it helps them build a strong relationship with them.

"They're also very aware of the demands on modern families - in particular expensive childcare - and are for the most part happy to help out if they can.

"However, it's clear that in some cases they feel they're taken for granted, so open discussions should happen on an ongoing basis in order to manage everyone's expectations."

But it's not all good - 17% say they're financially unstable as a result, and a tiny 4% say they were happier when they were working.

So what are the advantages and disadvantages of grandparents looking after their grandchildren?

Here's what some of the grandmas and grandads that use Gransnet forums say:

Advantages

1. The closeness between grandparents and grandchildren - nearly two-thirds (63%) of grandparents say looking after their grandchildren gives them "an amazing chance to spend time with them".

2. Knowing that their grandchildren are with someone who loves them and being able to give their grandchildren attention their parents don't have the time to give them.

3. Flexibility, convenience and peace of mind for the parents, who may also be able to save up because of the childcare help their parents give them.

4. Many grandparents say caring for their grandchildren keeps them fit.

5. Another advantage is grandparents being able to pass on their wisdom and experience to their grandchildren.

Disadvantages

1. Having to curtail their own plans - social lives, holidays etc to fit in with the needs of the parents/grandchildren.

2. Declining health/not as much energy to look after young children.

3. Disagreements with parents on things like discipline/screen time/food etc. However, there may be a solution to this, as when a grandparent does the childcare because both parents are working, a Family Childcare Agreement can help iron out problems before they begin, says Family Lives.

4. Expectations or not being able to say no - Gransnet editor Lara Crisp explains: "Some Gransnetters volunteered or agreed to look after their first grandchild, then another arrived, then their other children had a couple, so they felt they couldn't say no to help them out. And of course in the interim the years may have taken their toll physically too."

5. Finding out that childcare replaces granny time.

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