You simply can’t underestimate the importance of family support when you’re a single parent. Of course, nowadays families come in all shapes and sizes. For some friends provide a stronger support network than blood relatives do. I’m lucky to have both fighting my corner. But in my opinion, nobody compares to grandparents who care.
My mum was there when my first child was born. She was the one who stayed awake and held my hand through the pain when the father-to-be went home “to collect some things” and fell asleep on the sofa for three hours. (Don’t worry, he got back to the hospital just before things got really hairy, plenty of time to suffer alongside me.) Without getting too graphic, my mum saw my baby before I did. And she’s been a huge presence in his life — and his sister’s — since then. As has my dad. Nothing is too much bother.
Childcare is only a small part of what my parents bring to my kids’ lives. But it’s an important part. Of course, I’m not alone in relying on my parents for help with my children. Apparently, almost two million British grandparents have given up work, reduced their working hours or taken time off work to help look after their grandchildren. It’s not surprising when you consider the rising costs of childcare in the U.K. A recent report from the Halifax found that parents spend an average of £41,139 per child on childcare up to the age of 11 — more than they spend on their child’s food, education, clothes, toys and leisure activities combined. Low income families often have no choice but to turn to family members for help with their children.
This unpaid army of grandparents is saving the country over £17 billion a year in childcare costs says the 21st Century Grandparenting Report, published in November 2014 by over 50s insurance provider Rias. Over two-thirds of British grandparents help out with their grandchildren, looking after them for an average of 9.1 hours per week, which is a 49 percent increase from 2009. Most of the grandparents who took part said they love spending time with their grandchildren but 29 percent describe it as strenuous and tiring (no real shock there). Although they enjoy looking after grandkids, 14 percent say that it’s expensive and almost one in 10 say it feels like a job.
So with all that in mind, there are certain rules I try to adhere to for the sake of keeping the peace and preserving everyone’s sanity.
Don’t take advantage of them
Don’t take the p*ss. If my parents look after my children a couple of afternoons during the week, I won’t ask them to babysit at the weekend. Just because they’re there, doesn’t mean they should. Look for a responsible teenager who’s good with kids and happy to sit and watch your TV for a few hours on a Saturday night. Yes, it’ll cost you but it’s better than feeling guilty that you’re out enjoying yourself while your parents are climbing the walls because your rascal offspring won’t go to sleep.
Give up a little control
Get ready to relax your parenting rules a little. So your children might get pizza at their grandparents’ place or a little too much access to the sweetie tin. Big deal. Just give them an extra helping of broccoli the next night. Part of a grandparent’s job is to spoil. As long as they’re keeping your kids safe and happy, go easy on the rules. It’s in everyone’s interests to keep the focus more on family bonding than unpaid help. It’s a tricky line to walk, as they clearly are being enormously helpful, but it’s also a valuable opportunity to strengthen those ties between little ones and their grandparents that can last a lifetime.
Show your appreciation
Give something back. A bunch of flowers now and then. A thoughtful gift (when it’s not a birthday, Christmas or anniversary). Even a text message saying “I really appreciate what you do for us” goes a long way.
Respect their time
Be prepared for things to change. Your parents might spend more time abroad. They might get ill. They might decide they want to do other things in their free time than looking after young children. These are all plausible, possible and perfectly acceptable.