Seniors as carers: caring for grandchildren
Grandparents have long played a vital role in our communities providing emotional, practical and even financial support to their families. Today, Australian seniors are taking on a variety of formal and informal carer roles in the lives of their grandchildren.
This is one of a series of articles looking at the contribution Australian seniors make as carers in our communities. You can read Seniors as carers: caring for an adult child here; and Seniors as carers: supporting a loved one with dementia here.
In this article we will explore the different carer roles Australian seniors take with grandchildren, the rewards and challenges of caring for a grandchild, and where to get support.
Grandparent carers in Australia
Recent figures show grandparents as the most common source of regular care in Australia, providing childcare for 22 per cent of all children aged 0 – 12 years.
There are many grandparents that are the sole and primary carers of their grandchildren. The 2011 ABS Census identified 46,680 grandparent families where grandchildren were being raised by their grandparents in the absence of parent-child relationships. This number is expected to rise in the Census data being collected this year.
And there are plenty of variants of grandparent care in-between that aren’t formally captured by data.
Grandparents providing regular or occasional care
There are many benefits to grandparents providing regular or occasional care for their grandchildren. Not only is it more affordable than other childcare options, it also provides an opportunity for the child to develop a deeper relationship with their grandparents.
Many grandparents say that watching their grandchild learn and grow is one of the most enriching experiences of their lives but despite the many rewards, providing regular or occasional care for your grandchild can have some challenges including:
- Managing energy levels: running around after a small child and keeping them entertained can be exhausting.
- ·Balancing your needs: it can be difficult to find time to balance care for your grandchild with current commitments including work and hobbies.
- Financial burden: the travel, food and entertainment costs associated with child caring can add up over time.
There are some practical things you can do to help manage these challenges:
- Maintain open and respectful communication: talk with your grandchild’s parents about managing challenges together.
- Trial period: start with a trial period so you can review the situation and make changes if needed.
- Make time for yourself: talk to your grandchild's parents about backup plans for if you're sick or want to take a holiday.
- Entertaining on a budget: there are many inexpensive and free options to keep your grandchild occupied including visits to the park or storytime at your local library. For ideas check out the Raising Children Network’s > Homemade toys and free activities for kids.
- Connect with others: consider joining a local playgroup, some areas even have specific playgroups for grandparent carers. For more information check out Playgroups Australia.
Grandparents as primary carers
Becoming the primary carer of a grandchild usually follows a family crisis, resulting in the child's parents being unable or unwilling to care for them. These situations may develop over time, or can happen quite quickly. Regardless, it can sometimes come as a shock for grandparents to find themselves living with and raising their grandchild.
If your grandchild comes to live with you, you may find it to be an incredibly stressful and disruptive time for all involved. There are many challenges associated with becoming a grandparent carer including:
- Managing behaviour: it may have been years since you parented a young child, and it may take some time to feel confident in making rules and setting boundaries.
- Making room and making time: balancing your current commitments with child rearing responsibilities, and finding space in your house to set up a room for your grandchild.
- Managing disputes: you may have to deal with disputes about the role of other family members in your grandchild’s life, including their parents.
- Legal burden: there may be ongoing legal issues such as court arrangements and the involvement of child protection authorities.
- Financial burden: clothes, food, education – raising a child can be expensive.
While the challenges of becoming a primary carer for a grandchild can seem overwhelming, many Australian grandparents report that the experience was rewarding in many ways and that their grandchildren bring joy and love to their lives.
There are a variety of supports available from the Australian Government for non-parent carers who provide full-time care for a child. Grandparent advisers are a great resource and can help to navigate the payment and support options available, Human Services > Grandparent advisers.
Retirement Communities Australia’s Retirement Villages
Retirement Community Australia villages are all conveniently located for easy independent living which is helpful for those residents that care for grandchildren during the day.
Supporting the health and wellbeing of seniors that care for grandchildren is vital. Most grandchildren require a good investment of physical and emotional energy! Our villages are designed to promote Active Health through services and programs to improve the health, wellbeing and lifestyle of village residents. We also design our villas to be two or three bedrooms so that guests can be accommodated.
If you are a grandparent carer, our village staff can offer you advice on how we may be able to help.
More information for grandparent carers
Raising Children Network > Grandparents
Human Services > Support for non-parent carers
Carers Victoria > How can we help?