With many parents struggling to balance work and family life, grandparents are increasingly being asked to lend a helping hand. The vast majority of parents say that grandparents are their first choice of childcare, and 97% of families receive some kind of help, ranging from regular childcare for babies and toddlers, to dropping off and picking up children from school, to helping out when the children are ill or during the school holidays.
If you are asking your parents or parents-in law to help with childcare, there are some important things to consider and for the grandparents to consider what they feel comfortable with taking on. We contacted Grandparents Plus, the national Charity for Grandparents and their role in raising their grandchildren for guidance.
Below are some of the frequently asked questions when it comes to asking the parents in providing childcare.
- How much childcare should I ask them to provide?
Establishing a balance of how much childcare to ask for can be quite tricky. Looking after a grandchild should be a joy, not a duty, but if parents are struggling to pay for childcare grandparents might feel a lot of pressure to help as much as they can. Grandparents are encouraged to acknowledge their limits, and only commit to what they can do, especially if there are health conditions to think about. The other things which are important to them – being with a partner, seeing friends, doing any other work – shouldn’t suffer as a result.
If you are a parent thinking of asking your parents or parents-in-law to look after your child, be grateful for what they are willing to do for you and don’t put pressure on them to do more, as this is unfair and can cause tension. Remember that for all kinds of reasons not all grandparents are willing or able to provide childcare.
- Should I assume my parents we will look after the baby when she goes back to work. Is that fair?
It is fair to ask, but not to take this for granted. Parents should respect their life and their freedom to choose. Not all grandparents want to be involved in providing childcare, and it is up to them to let you know if that’s how you feel.
If they do agree to look after the children, it’s important to get the ground rules clear at the start so as to avoid resentment. Open and honest conversations are really important – make sure you share any concerns you have from the outset, so that everyone knows where they stand.
- What should we discuss before we start?
Do try and talk about practical issues before the arrangement starts. Having this discussion will be a good way to establish ground rules, as many parents and grandparents worry whose rules should apply when the grandparents are looking after the grandchild. Remember that children need consistency – though they can accept, for example, that in grandma’s house they take their shoes off and put their own toys away even if this isn’t expected at home. It’s also a good idea to discuss who will pay for what, where the children will be looked after (at whose home? for example), and how long the arrangement will last.
- What should we do about money?
Looking after grandchildren incurs costs. There are lots of things to pay for: food, toys, days out, transport fares etc. It is good to have an open discussion about who is expected to pay for what. Do not be afraid to say no if an activity is too costly. No one should not feel obliged to pay for anything. Remember that the parents are saving a lot of money thanks to the grandchildren! One idea is to keep a budget to keep track of your outgoings and have regular catch ups over spending.
One common arrangement is for parents to cover the grandparents’ expenses (lunch, outings etc). A minority of parents do pay grandparents for providing childcare, but many grandparents are quite happy to look after their grandchildren for nothing. When that is the case, parents may choose to treat the grandparents to a meal out or small gifts as a way to say thank you.
If the parents pay for providing childcare, then they become an employer. An employer-employee relationship entails certain rights and responsibilities including potential tax liability (depending on total income).
- Can the grandparent, or the parents, get any financial support?
Grandparents providing childcare aren’t usually eligible for any financial support. However, the government has introduced a National Insurance credit to ensure that grandparents and other relatives of working age who are providing childcare do not lose out on their basic state pension. The credits, called Specified Adult Childcare Credits are for anyone who is providing care for a young relative under the age of 12 in order to enable a parent to work. You can get more information and an application form from gov.uk or phone the National Insurance Helpline on 0300 200 3500.
Where a relative is providing childcare, parents cannot usually claim the childcare element of Tax Credits or Universal Credit or other help with childcare costs. The only exception is where the relative is a registered childminder and is looking after a child away from the child’s home. Childminders have to register with Ofsted, advertise their services publicly and take on other (unrelated) children.
Grandparents Plus is the national charity which champions the vital role of grandparents and the wider family.