When the grandparents move house for the family

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Joyce and Max McKendry did what many Melburnians do when they retire; they moved down the coast for a seachange.

But 17 years later, as many of their friends from the Mornington Peninsula now head into retirement care, the grandparents have packed up again, said goodbye to the surf and moved back to Sunbury, north of the city — and in with their kids. 

Although they loved their beachside retirement, the couple say they're happy to leave it all behind to spend more time with their 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Grandparents Joyce and Max McKendry, with their grandlkids Connor and Maddison Whelan, are living together while their ...
Grandparents Joyce and Max McKendry, with their grandlkids Connor and Maddison Whelan, are living together while their new home is built in Sunbury Fields. Photo: Frasers Property

"I always said I'd never come back," Mrs McKendry said. "Because of the seachange, we'd made a lot of friends down there. But since we've been back, I love it now."

The McKendrys purchased a house in the new Sunbury Fields development and are living with their daughter and her children while the property is built.

They're not alone in making such a move; family researchers say Australian grandparents are increasingly changing their own living arrangements to fill gaps in childcare arrangements, share a residence with children for financial reasons, or simply have more contact with their grandchildren.

"Grandparents are much more central and much more needed to support the needs of families than they ever have been," Grandparents Australia director Anne McLeish said, naming the prohibitive costs of childcare and education as two of the main factors influencing grandparents to make the move.

"The retirement dream is already a myth," she said. "We have grandparents working later in life and providing childcare at the same time, which goes way beyond full time obligation ... in many ways, they're becoming the second parents."

Ms McLeish said grandparents often put the family's needs ahead of their own. "And in the case of those raising grandchildren full-time because they can't be cared for by their parents, those grandparents always and unfailing put their own needs last."

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A recent study of 8000 children by the Australian Institute of Family Studies showed about half of those surveyed were cared for by their grandparents one day a week, while a quarter were cared for two days a week. Institute director Anne Hollonds said the findings were not surprising and she believed the numbers were on the rise.

"I think this is increasing as more mothers are working when their children are below school age," Ms Hollonds said.

Factors that led grandparents to move included house prices, the cost of elder care, the convenience of sharing childcare and expenses, as well as strong values of looking after family, she said.

Experts say grandparents are working later in life and providing childcare at the same time.
Experts say grandparents are working later in life and providing childcare at the same time. Photo: Michel O'Sullivan

For 77-year-old Mrs McKendry, her full-time care-giving days are behind her, having been heavily involved with the care of her older grandchildren. But she says she will more than happily raise her hand to look after the younger grandkids if need be.

"We will certainly be available if they need us," she said. "We moved basically because I've missed them being down on the peninsula."

Mrs McKendry raised four children in Sunbury and said it had been an emotional reunion coming back to the area. "As my daughter said back when we arrived, she came and gave me the biggest hug, and said, 'I've been waiting 17 years for this'."

Joyce and Max McKendry say they happily left their seachange behind to spend more time with their younger grandkids.
Joyce and Max McKendry say they happily left their seachange behind to spend more time with their younger grandkids. Photo: Frasers Property

Given grandparents are now older than they once were, Ms McLeish hoped grandparents living together or close to families would in turn lead to extra support as they aged.

"I can't see evidence of that trend yet, but I'm hoping for cross-generational support," she said.

This story first appeared on Domain.