In the past two decades, ideologies and traditional responsibilities of a grandparent have evolved, with many delaying or even sacrificing the slower-pace of retirement, finding a newfound spring in their step in order to care for their grandchildren.
National Seniors Australia, CEO, Michael O’Neill says a report they released in September, 2015, found that significant financial pressures on families and the inflexibility of formal childcare had led to the dramatic change in the role grandparents play within a family unit.
“Grandparents, particularly women aged 55-65, are choosing to withdraw from the workforce in order to help care for their grandchildren,” says Mr O’Neill.
This is in line with a 2014 Australian Bureau of Statistics report that found 836,000 Australian children aged 0-12 years were cared for by a grandparent in a typical week (10 hours or less per week), becoming the most popular form of informal childcare in the country.
Based on the average formal childcare net costs of $100 per week, families utilising a grandparent to care for their child are saving more than $400 a month. However 97 per cent of grandparents who care for their grandchildren are unpaid.
“Regardless of cultural background or income, we are seeing this occur across many different and diverse families in Australia due to everyday financial challenges,” says Mr O’Neill.
"I come from a culture where in India you have intergenerational interaction on a day-to-day basis. We look after each other as a family."
Australian Multicultural Foundation, Executive Director, Dr. Hass Dellal AO, says being a multicultural country, more research and recognition needs to be given to support these grandparents, including those from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds who may feel isolated when caring for their grandchild.
“It is their [the grandparent’s] cultural belief and part of their very fabric to play a vital role in the care of their family, including that of their grandchildren,” says Dr. Dellal.
“It’s not only about the maintenance of their culture for future generations, but also creating strong family values. But for grandparents from cultural diverse backgrounds, isolation can be an obstacle to their migration process.
“There needs to be support to help these grandparents to acquire English themselves, as well as services to help them integrate into society.
“It would be a great loss not to support these people. The value they add to Australia is tremendous, with their grandchildren growing to be multilingual,” he says.
Brisbane grandmother, Sharmila Mercer, says she enjoys taking care of her two grandchildren, aged 5 and 3, one day a week for up to 24 hours.
“I come from a culture where in India you have intergenerational interaction on a day-to-day basis. We look after each other as a family,” she says.
“But aside from my cultural responsibility, I really look forward to taking care of my grandchildren, helping them have a break from daycare, plus it’s better exercise than a Pilates class.”
Mother-of-three, Amala Kanagalingam, says her mother flew from Canberra to Brisbane once a month to help with the daily care of her children, aged 5, 4 and 4 months, allowing both her and her husband to work.
“We decided against formal daycare as we felt they [the children] were too young to go. We felt the kids would be better looked after by my mum in the comfort of our own home,” she says.
“She is happy with the arrangement, however does find it difficult as my dad is still working in Canberra. She looks forward to the time he can retire and they can both live in Brisbane.”
Raising Children Executive Director, Associate Professor Julie Green, says open and honest communication with a grandchild’s parents would help manage requirements and expectations.
“Looking after grandchildren can be tiring and grandparents are often juggling housework, paid work, caring for their own parents and time for themselves. It’s okay for grandparents to be honest about when they need a break,” she says.