Keeping childcare in the family

Could a grandparent be the solution to your childcare worries?


Few women going back to work after maternity leave do it without tears. The choice of who will be your daytime replacement is enough to leave the most relaxed mothers anxious. However, it’s a choice that most of us are making. In 2001, 67% of mothers returned to work before their child’s first birthday compared with just 24% in 1981.


Combine worries about the quality of childcare in nurseries or with childminders, with the hefty sum you have to pay for them, and it comes as no surprise that increasing numbers of mums and dads are roping in their own parents to help.

Since the 70s the number of grandparents providing regular childcare has jumped from 33% to 70%. On paper it seems like the perfect solution. Who better to rely on to care for your child than your own parents?

In some areas they can even go to grandparent classes in case they want to brush up on their skills. Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, for example, runs antenatal classes for grandparents, which covers such topics as cot-death prevention and postnatal depression.

But is keeping childcare in the family the answer to every working mother’s prayers? Press reports on a study by The Families, Children And Child Care project (FCCC) claimed anyone caring for a child under 18 months, other than a mother, was ‘less than good’, and those cared for in nurseries fared worst of all.

Clinical psychologist Linda Blair is convinced there can be huge benefits if grandparents look after a grandchild while their mother is out at work. But she feels good communication is essential to make the arrangement work.

‘The last thing you need is for there to be tension, because a child will pick up on that and become anxious. There has to be mutual respect, as well give and take,’ says Linda.

And what about granny’s parenting skills? ‘Parenting may have moved on, but good parenting is the same as it always was. As long as your child is being loved for who they are and not what they are doing, you can’t go wrong,’ she says.

But there is a downside to getting a fmily member to look after your child. A poll conducted by the BBC discovered that 38% of grandparents felt put upon by their working children. When you consider that the modern grandparent is often an active, vibrant figure with interests of their own, you can see why they may start to resent being on call for childcare.

Money can also be an issue. A family member may feel uncomfortable asking for money, which could breed resentment.

Equally, unresolved issues from your own childhood could arise. You may be anti-smacking and pro-organic, while your mother takes the "Granny knows best" attitude and considers your views hippy nonsense.

If childcare is kept within the family, the Daycare Trust offers this advice

  • Anticipate when conflicts may arise, be it money or flexibility, and put these areas on a formal footing in writing.
  • Let relatives know they can say ‘no’ and you won’t hold it against them.
  • Have a three-month review. What may seem like a brilliant idea at the beginning may not work out.
  • Think about what your child and grandparent can do together. Ease into things by introducing her to people.
  • Grandparents Plus (020 8981 8001) offers support.
  • Think about how the other set of grandparents may feel if they aren’t seeing as much of the grandchildren. Make time for them, too.
  • Give and take. Okay, so you don’t approve of too many sweets, but is one biscuit really going to kill them?
  • Enjoy it. Consider this arrangement an opportunity to discover a new side to your relationship with your mother.
  • For more information call the Daycare Trust on 020 7840 3450 or visit

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