'Many Grandparents Feel Their Role Now Is Much More about Providing Practical Support'
IT'S a role they've already seen through once - many years earlier - in raising their own children. But ever more grandparents are being asked to again shoulder the burden of childcare and take care of the grandkids as their 30-something children juggle busy lives.
The financial contribution of grandparents to the Welsh economy, in terms of childcare alone, is worth an estimated pounds 259m a year.
Up to 60% of working parents in the UK reportedly rely on their parents or other relatives to look after their children.
This is down to a number of factors, including more working women, increasingly long and unsociable working hours, the fact that grandparents are fitter and more active these days and the high cost of childcare.
Most grandparents are happy to see more of their families, of course, but a small number feel under pressure to help out.
And a study this summer showed the UK is lagging behind other European countries by failing to recognise the role grandparents play in looking after children.
The report by Grandparents Plus says one in three mothers in the UK rely on grandparents to provide childcare.
Yet, it says, the state gives little financial recognition for this role - unlike other European countries - and that grandparents should not be taken for granted as cheap childcare.
The study - written in partnership with the Beth Johnson Foundation and the Institute of Gerontology at King's College London - says many grandparents struggled to juggle work and childcare - all without financial support.
But a number of EU countries have taken steps to help grandparents.
These include measures to allow parents to transfer parental leave to grandparents, letting working grandparents take time off if their grandchild is sick and, in some circumstances, paying them for the care they provided.
Dr Karen Glaser, a specialist in ageing who helped write the report, said there needed to be a system in place whereby parental leave from work could be transferred to grandparents.
"There are more women in employment and grandparents are absolutely instrumental in terms of childcare," she said.
"There have been significant changes to family lives, so in terms of increasing levels of divorce and one-parent families a lot of research has shown that grandparents are absolutely crucial, especially at times of family crisis."
The recognition of these issues and the increasingly important role grandparents play has led to several new networking sites on the internet. Grannynet.co.uk and BeGrand.net have opened up new forums for debate, discussion and campaigning for those with extended family issues.
Age Cymru says grandparents are playing a more prominent role than ever before. "Many grandparents feel the role has changed - that nowadays it's much more about providing practical support," said spokesman Iwan Rhys Roberts.
"They've told us that they contribute more financially to their grandchildren than their grandparents did, and they spend more time looking after their grandchildren than their grandparents spent looking after them."
Verity Gill, co-founder of Grannynet - the grandmothers' equivalent of influential parenting website Mumsnet - said grandparents were becoming increasingly important as more mums work full-time.
"Nurseries are so expensive that many grandparents are stepping in to look after their grandchildren on a part-time and full-time basis," she said.
"Taking care of children is a serious job - many grandparents volunteer their time because they don't want to see their children left bankrupt through paying for nursery fees."
Catherine Davies, 57, a grandmother of two from Tenby, works part-time as a receptionist but looks after her son's children two days a week.
"In an effort to be helpful, some grandparents over-extend themselves in their willingness to provide childcare," she said. …