Grandparents caring for grandchildren – can it work for your family?

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 Photo: Getty Images

George Burns once said, "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city."

That may be true for you. Or your situation may be much more harmonious.

You may love having a close and tight-knit family who live 10-minutes' drive away, are always available at short notice, assist rather than interfere, and support rather than smother.

But you may just as likely have family members who criticise you for being too soft on your kids, or who try to feed your two-month-old chocolate biscuits, or drop around uninvited and never leave.

Grandparents are a particular breed of family. They are now the largest provider of informal childcare in Australia, and grandparents are often seen as one of the best options for childcare because of the family connections.

Grandparents can certainly share a close bond with their grandchildren, and delight in the wonders of children without the constant demands of daily care. They can also spoil their grandchildren with special treats and individual attention. It's a relationship to be cherished.

But not all grandparents are keen participants in caring for and raising your children. They've already raised a generation, and can be more interested in living – their life, not yours.

This can lead to hurt, upsets, and misunderstandings. Why don't they want to see their grandchildren? Why is everything always too much trouble? Why are travel, their friends, and dance lessons more important than us?

It may help to know that grandparents come in different flavours. Not all grandparents are avid carers. There are also grandparents who are hesitant carers. And there are all shades in between …

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Avid grandparents

For these grandparents, caring for their grandchildren is central to their life. They are very family focused, and believe that family care is superior to other types of care so they are willing and able to help out either regularly or when needed. They are also very keen to pass on family values and traditions by spending time with their grandchildren.

Family flexible grandparent

These grandparents view the role of caring for their grandchildren as important. But it isn't the only way they derive meaning in their life. They are family focused but they also want the flexibility to have their own time and prioritise their own interests. They see directly caring for the grandchildren as one way of providing support, but not the only way.

Selective grandparents

Selective grandparents value their family and their grandchildren but also value an independent life. Family is only one important part of their life. They don't mind helping out with some care but they prefer to determine themselves how often and when they look after the grandchildren. 

Hesitant grandparents

Hesitant grandparents do not really see caring for grandchildren as contributing to meaning and value in their life. They are very independently minded, and they prefer living their own life unencumbered. They tend to have limited time with family and provide little or no care to the grandchildren.

It can be difficult when your children's grandparents don't behave in a way that you would like or expect. But then, no family is perfect.

It might help to ask yourself, Am I expecting too much of my family? In what way are they already helping?  Can I look to friends, neighbours and others to help support our family instead? 

Jodie Benveniste is a psychologist, parenting author and a great believer in the power of intuitive parenting. You can get your free gift 'Unlocking the secrets of intuitive parenting' at jodiebenveniste.com.