Grandparents provide financial and practical support
According to Professor Margaret Sims, Honorary Professor of Early Childhood at Macquarie University, grandparents provide emotional support around parenting as well as financial and practical support in addition to child care.
“Lockdowns meant that parents were required, where possible, to work from home whilst simultaneously providing child care and supervising children’s schooling without the support of grandparents.”
Professor Sims claims the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ suggests that when we restrict child rearing to the nuclear family, we are doing children a disservice.
“Certainly, there is evidence that if grandparents are estranged from their grandchildren the child’s wellbeing is negatively impacted. Attachment research suggests that it is beneficial to children to form multiple attachments, that is to bond with more than their parents,” Prof Sims says.
“Many now focus on building circles of security around children to facilitate their emotional, psychological development and wellbeing.”
Should grandparents be expected to babysit?
However the pressure on grandparents to step in can have a downside.
“This pressure to engage in grandparental child care is associated with increased grandparent psychological distress. Greater care responsibilities are linked to increased risks of negative affect and heart rate variability, suggesting there is a balance each family needs to seek to ensure the wellbeing of all members,” Professor Sims says.
There are also some families that might feel the grandparents in their lives are too over-bearing, insisting on spending more and more time with the grandchildren. Professor Sims says families from different cultures often have different expectations in regards to intergenerational relationships.
“In China, for example, it is not uncommon for multigenerational families to live together in the same dwelling, and in these circumstances grandparent involvement in child rearing is expected as the norm,” Professor Sims says.
“Mothers generally experience a better quality of life in these circumstances. However, power differences between the generations makes it important for parents to carefully negotiate their relationships. In other cultures, the expectations are very different and it is not uncommon for families to exclude grandparents or attempt to limit their involvement."
Tammi, 36, is the mother of three children under the age of six. Both Tammi and her partner work full time and are rarely able to pick the children up from day care and pre-school. Tammi says she would have trouble coping without her mother’s help.
“My mother is amazing and she not only helps care for the kids, she also helps with cooking and cleaning. But she is now 73 and I worry about her own health. She has already done a great job raising my brother and I, and I know that when my father died, my mum was looking forward to taking on a bigger role as a grandparent,” Tammi says.
“I know she feels torn between wanting to enjoy her retirement and also wanting to help me and spend the majority of her time with her grandchildren. She knows how grateful I am to her but I feel guilty that I am putting pressure on her to help more than she really should. The plus side is my kids are so lucky to have her love and attention when I’m not around. We are so lucky to have her and I try to make her feel like she isn’t being taken for granted.”
There’s little doubt that, in a perfect world, the benefits of grandparents in a child’s life is something many parents would see as invaluable. Professor Simms says grandparent involvement can, in some cases, relieve the impact of a negative family environment on children.
“Supportive grandparent-parent co-parenting can mitigate, to some extent, the impact of abusive family environments on children, as well as child behaviour problems and a range of child mental health concern. In all families, involvement of people outside the parents provides children with a range of attachment figures that lowers the risk of emotional and psychological damage should any attachment figure become unavailable, such as through death,” Prof Sims says.