My brother in law helped his new adopted daughter by taking in and raising her two children from about age one, when she was unable to cope. I have helped my son and daughter when they have called on us, which is not that often. I have a friend who helps his adult children by taking care of his grandchildren about 35 hours a week when the parents are working. He loves it, but the children are young and it is taking a toll on his energy and his health.
The issue of helping adult children either with cash or time is a concern for many of us. The Australian government did a report on this issue and some of the information is interesting:
Researchers in the United States have found that a third of children under the age of six receive up to 10 hours of care a week and that 47% of all grandparents with grandchildren (under 13 years) living nearby provide some childcare (Guzman, 2004). Although more grandmothers (54%) provided child care it was found that grandfathers (38%) also made a significant contribution.
In the United Kingdom it has been estimated that up to half of working parents rely on grandparent care for their children. It was also found that although grandparents were prepared to provide some child care, and at times even reduced their working hours to provide it, they did not want to give up their jobs (Mooney, Statham, & Simon, 2002; Phillips, Bernard, & Chittenden, 2002).
Like my friend, who is experiencing health concerns, Grandparents bringing up grandchildren also experience changes in their own lifestyle, health and well-being. The following are issues of concern to grandparents in these circumstances:
- isolation from friends and peers because they are not free to take part in activities with their own age group;
- friends and family may not help them out because they do not understand the situation;
- fewer opportunities to enjoy and indulge their grandchildren because they are responsible for discipline and other parenting tasks;
- affects on health due to the additional work and stress involved in caring for often difficult children and they may neglect their own health; and
- being tired and overworked (Fitzpatrick, 2004; Jendrek, 1993).
Providing extensive care for grandchildren has also been linked with a higher level of depression and other declines in the health of grandparents such as increased risk of coronary heart disease, even after taking into account the effects of age (Lee, Colditz, Berkman & Kawachi, 2003; Minkler & Fuller-Thompson, 1999). Grandparents who are parenting grandchildren are less optimistic about the future than other grandparents. They worry about their own health and what will happen to the grandchildren if they die or become incapacitated. Many grandparents worry about money, and how they will make ends meet as the grandchildren get older and their daily expenses are greater.
We all want to help our children, if we can, but there is a price to be paid for that help. If we understand some of the risks of helping to us, then we are in a better position to make a decision that is best for us and best for our children. In the next post, I will outline some of the resources, from the Australian report, for grandparents who have taken on the responsibility of raising a grandchild.