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Seven ways to avoid squabbles over grandparents minding kids

Your parents are a lifeline when children need looking after, but there are some guidelines worth considering, says Lisa Salmon

Play time: grandparents provide essential care but it isn’t always plain sailing
Play time: grandparents provide essential care but it isn’t always plain sailing

By Lisa Salmon

Most parents don't like the idea of sending their babies or young children to childcare - and that's before even considering the often-crippling costs.

That's where grandparents come in. Not only do they usually provide their services free of charge - when asked whether or not grandparents should be paid for childcare, two thirds of grandparents surveyed by Gransnet said no - they also love grandchildren. And where better to leave your kids than with someone who loves them?

A Gransnet (www.gransnet.com) survey found 51% of grandparents regularly look after grandchildren all year round, and 10% help out during school holidays, most often looking after two grandchildren for one or two days a week (56% of grandcarers), although a minority (7%) provide childcare five days a week.

But while a fifth of parents said help with childcare from grandparents was the only way they could go back to work, and over a third (36%) said the best thing about the arrangement is the money they save, it isn't always plain sailing.

"Grandparents provide so much free childcare, often making themselves available at the drop of a hat if the child is unwell and a parent has an appointment," says Gransnet editor Lara Crisp "They sacrifice their holiday time and often give up work earlier than they would have otherwise, sometimes putting themselves in a financially insecure position."

Some grandcarers (12%) say they're exhausted by their caring role, or that childcare has had an adverse effect on their physical health. And as if that wasn't bad enough, there's the potential rows. Because while having grandcarers might be handy and free, it doesn't mean they'll look after the children the way parents want, or that they'll agree with the parenting rules.

Here are seven things to think about to avoid tensions in a grandcarers' arrangement...

1. Timekeeping

Parents' timekeeping is one of the biggest gripes for grandcarers, with 24% saying it causes tension. "You'd think grateful adult children would make sure their parents were not further put out, yet it seems that when it comes to common considerations - like pick-up times - parents' timekeeping can be a bit laissez-faire," says Crisp.

"Looking after children can be exhausting at the best of times, and no matter how much grandparents may love this quality time with their treasured grandchildren, they also value and need their own downtime and feel irked if parents mess them around and are late for collecting their offspring on a regular basis.

"Grandparents may also have their own busy social lives and at times this casual lack of consideration suggests parents think their own time is more valuable."

2. Screen time

The second biggest gripe for grandparents is the amount of screen time children are allowed, cited by 18%. So, parents and grandparents need to be clear on what's allowed - bearing in mind there's a good chance the kids will think they can have more screentime with grandma and grandad because they might be a 'soft touch'.

"Once grandparents and the kids have depleted all their energy reserves, a bit of downtime in front of the telly or on a tablet is acceptable," says Crisp.

"The grandparents on Gransnet will happily explore other avenues first - baking, reading with their grandkids etc - but sometimes a bit of screen entertainment is entirely justified.

"Our users are conscious of sticking to mum and dad's guidelines, but the truth is an extra five minutes of Peppa Pig isn't going to have devastating effects on a child's wellbeing."

3. Rules and routines

Parents shouldn't just assume grandparents know all the rules the children are expected to follow. Make sure these are all discussed and written down if necessary. If grandparents need to change a rule or routine, checking with the children's parents that they're happy with the change will help avoid conflict.

4. Expectations

Grandparents need to be clear about what they can and can't do before any childcare starts - so if you know being at your daughter's house for 7am every morning would affect your health and wellbeing, make it clear right from the off..

Crisp says: "Gransnet users say the trick to making this sort of childcare work is for everyone to be really clear about their expectations. Grandparents certainly shouldn't be afraid to speak up if they realise they've taken on too much."

5. Contingency plans

Make sure you discuss back-up plans for when grandparents or grandchildren are ill, or when grandparents go on holiday.

6. Managing behaviour

Discipline methods have changed considerably over the generations, so it's a good idea for grandparents to ask the parents how they deal with challenging behaviour and what sanctions they're happy with.

If grandparents want to bend the rules, it's worth asking the parent first, rather than just telling them later, or having the grandchildren tell them. A simple "Do you mind if I let him stay up a bit later?" could avoid an argument.

7. Finances

While most grandparents aren't paid for looking after their grandchildren, the reality is they're often out of pocket because of the arrangement. Many grandcarers (21%) give up work or reduce their hours to look after their grandchildren and 27% say they've become financially unstable as a result. And to add to that, 64% say they spend up to £20 a day in the course of providing childcare.

To minimise this financial hit, it's worth grandparents discussing the possibility of the grandchildren's parents providing some money for the children's expenses.

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