At SAHM, we hear a lot about the issues that trouble parents in raising their kids. Everything from breastfeeding to school yard bullies, parenting brings with it an assortment of everyday problems that need to be ‘sorted’. But one common issue amongst a startling number of our readers is the issue of returning to work, and childcare, or significant lack thereof. Most of the women (and men) who chat in our forums, on our page and in our groups, express a desire to go back to work but are simply not able to justify it, due to the cost of childcare. And those lucky ones who can return to their former careers, or a part time equivalent? An amazing 40% of Australian parents returning to work rely on their own parents to care for their children whilst they are making ends meet, combining grandparent/grandchild bonding time and cost-effective childcare arrangements together to benefit everyone. Or so it may seem.
How many of you rely on your own parents, or family members, to regularly look after your children whilst you go to work? It’s become the norm in today’s society. Very few families can afford to live on one income for an extended period of time and with the retirement age still sitting around the 60-65 year age and pensions still available for those who have finished work, it seems a mutually beneficial arrangement between parents and their adult children. The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that 2 out of 3 parents have an arrangement with the grandparents of their child/ren to care for them whilst they work or study, with most, if not all, citing trust issues and childcare costs as factors in their decisions. And why not? You’re leaving your child with someone who loves them and with whom they will get most of their attention for the day. Grandparents seldom have a pile of housework to do, countless errands to run or multiple children to attend to so they usually devote their time and energy towards entertaining your child (which can also be a negative, but hey, that’s what grandies are for!) and all for free! Sounds like a sweet deal to me!
But here is where the problem is now arising. With so many people relying on ‘granny nannies’ to care for their children, what should grandparents be expecting in return? Some grandparents want nothing, they simply enjoy the pleasure of their grandchildren’s company and are happy to incur the costs of activities, food, even clothing, required. They see it as a way to help their children get ahead in life, to achieve careers, buy homes, build a lifestyle. Others make it quite clear that they are happy to watch the children, but between certain hours, on certain days, for work days only, and that Mum/Dad needs to provide food/clothing/nappies/entertainment for the duration. Some grandparents can afford to have their grandchildren, as they are no longer working, and others may need to be remunerated for their services.
The federal government is currently looking into several options to ease the childcare crisis in Australia, one being the ‘cash for care’ initiative, where families who do not use taxpayer-subsidised childcare (ie pay grandparents or private babysitters) are benefited around $600 a month from the government. Another, more recent, proposal, is that grandparents who are trained in childcare and are regulated by a governing accreditation body (much like a Family Day Care Operator) can receive payments from the government for caring for their grandchildren. I don’t know about you, but I know for a fact that most grandparents I know wouldn’t be willing to go through the cost and stress of gaining a TAFE qualification and being subjected to scrutiny from an unexpected auditor, just to receive a bit of cash for looking after their own grandchild/ren!
So where does that leave the average Australian family? There is a bitter divide between those who have access to family members who are more than willing to help, and those who don’t. Whether you and your parents (or in-laws) are taking the ‘village to raise a child” approach or you only see your grand-parentals at family events and Christmas, the division of willing helpers is grossly unbalanced. You may be one of the lucky ones, or you may not.
How do you feel about ‘using’ your parents to help out with childcare? Is it exploitation, or simply good money sense? Do you feel your parents are happy to help out or is it a constant struggle?