Monday, 23 February 2009

Are grannies the new nannies?

Walking the streets of Nappy Valley recently, I've noticed something odd: the average age of the people pushing prams seems to have increased by around 30 years. Hordes of grey-haired ladies appear to be looking after small children at the local cafes, and I've spotted more than one sixtysomething couple dropping off tots at the Littleboys' nursery. It's not, I think, down to an IVF-fuelled baby boom among the older generation. My theory is that grannies are new nannies.

Yup, the recession is biting and Ana from Poland, Kirstie from New Zealand or Mila from Bulgaria have been replaced by Vera and Stanley, imported from Esher to look after their grandchildren while their children are at work.

The typical granny/nanny wears an expression that is half-indulgent and half resigned to their fate. There are some who are obviously thrilled to be spending so much time with their grandchildren, but there are others (particularly the middle class, Barbour-wearing variety) who would obviously so much rather be spending their retirement on an upmarket tour of India or a cruise in the Baltic than filling little Evie's Anyway Up Cup with apple juice and hauling a Bugaboo around the Common. Sure, they love their grandchildren, but this wasn't quite how they envisaged the golden years.

Having seen their houses rocket in value over the past few decades, their generation have enjoyed a period of wealth that mine will never experience. But suddenly their investments aren't generating so much income, and their children are demanding their help with childcare in order to keep payments up on their massive mortgages.

In truth, I've always been rather jealous of people who can rely on their parents for childcare. The Doctor and I both lost our mothers before we had children, and while my father is a very good babysitter, and great with the Littleboys, I think even he might baulk at being asked to look after his riotous grandsons all week. (The Doctor's father, meanwhile, would be quite appalled by the idea).

This leaves us with no other option than to pay out when we need childcare. We pay extortionate nursery fees, and when we went to Paris for our 10th wedding aniversary last year, we paid a trusted babysitter to look after the Littleboys for the whole weekend. In contrast, I know of several couples whose parents and in-laws take it in turns to look after the children during the week so that they don't have to pay out for nursery. Then there are othes who invite their parents or in-laws on holiday entirely so that they can help with the kiddies (although there is a tendency to complain about them vociferously afterwards and wonder whether it was worth it).

I can't decide whether using grannies as nannies is a fantastic idea, or whether I actually feel a little bit sorry for these grandparents. I like the idea of extended family stepping in at times of need (and I'm sure that the recent study that said nurseries were better than grandparents at looking after kids was wrong). But I do wonder if some people are just cutting back on childcare costs so that they can still afford their 4x4 and expensive summer holiday. Granny slave labour?


The Guider said...

I've never had the luxury of being able to have my parents be regular childcare, they live 350 miles away. And though my inlaws are only an hour away, they don't like to travel in the dark, leave the cat alone for too long...I think you can guess their ages!

I've always used nurseries to enable me to work, and have made solid friends that swap babysitting duties.

Now they are both at school, I use a combination of holiday club, trading days (you take A for Monday and I'll take your B for Tuesday meaning each of us only need take off one day) and my mum flying down to help out for a few days, though I try not to ask her too often.

So no Grannies for Nannies here, but then I never had a Nanny.

Vic said...

My parents work full time so we've never really had the luxury of them being our childcare. Between them and my sister who's still at home, we get the odd evening's babysitting. The mother in law is often around, but is wholly unreliable and tends to change her plans with minutes notice, thus leaving you completely in the lurch.
We've gotten used to paying out for most of our childcare, and I guess it's easier now the boy's in school. I'm not sure I'd feel entirely comfortable relying on family for full-time childcare though.

Home Office Mum said...

I dream of having a granny nearby to have as a nanny or even the odd spot of babysitting. My parents live in South Africa and New Zealand - not exactly suitable for a weekend visit - and my mother in law is 81 and lives 4 hours away. We are in a granny-no-man-land.

We too pay through the nose and bleed through the eyeballs if we want a night out or god forbid, a night away.

This makes my small 5 week trip across an ocean all the more of a challenge. I shall be making a foray into nannyville and will have to remortgage the house to do it.

So I'm a massive fan of granny slave labour - that is until I'm a granny - and then you'll spot me on that baltic cruise sucking on G&Ts

Bush Mummy said...

On a similar note there was a very interesting article in the Guardian or Telegraph this Saturday about older versus younger grannies. This older granny said she finds caring for her grandchildren much harder because you are no longer allowed to smack children and it is now all so 'PC'. She is terrified of upsetting someone (and i'm just talking a smack on the bottom like we used to get).

Older grandparents however have more time to dedicate to their grandchildren because they are retired unlike the younger grannies who may still have their own careers and interests.

Interesting topic.

BM x

rosiescribble said...

I think grannies have always paid a large role in childcare in some families. It's quite the norm where I live in the Midlands (ie up north!)Nannies here are practically unheard of. But when I lived in the Surrey communter belt they were everywhere, I can imagine there are less nannies there now and more grannies. My mother won't do the childcare so I have to pay if I need it. She wants her own life and after bringing up 4 children I can't say I blame her. She is currently holidaying abroad!

Iota said...

It must be hard work going back to looking after toddlers at that stage of life. Heck, I found it exhausting in my 30s and early 40s.

A Modern Mother said...

I too see losts of grannies out here in the sticks and wish my mother lived closer, she is more than 5k miles away.

Great post, can I put this one up on London Mums? Pretty please?

nappy valley girl said...

The Guider - sounds like a very sensible regime!

Vic - yes, relying on parents for full time childcare does seem like an awful lot to ask...

Home Office Mum - Good luck with nannyville. We've only done it once, when I was hospitalised for a month before Littleboy 2 was born, and luckily it worked very well (we keep in touch with her and still use her as a babysitter). I must add your ocean-going blog to my blogroll while I remember!

BM - Interesting about the Telegraph. Yes, I think childcare was quite different a generation ago (and possibly a lot simpler - not all this disapproval from all quarters over how you do it!)

Rosie - you're right, in some areas the granny would be the natural person to look after the child. I think it's more that these affluent Nappy Valley types have never had to call on their parents before, and suddenly they need to.

Iota - I am permanently knackered at the age of 35!

A Modern Mother - sure, you're welcome to use the post. Must be hard to have your mum so far away. I'm going to miss my Dad a lot when we go to the US.

purlyqueen said...

My mum looks after my 11-month-old son for two afternoons a week while I'm at work.

It's a perfect balance for us - she gets to spend time with her grandson without getting too knackered and I know my son is being looked after by someone who loves him as much (if more more) than I do!

I'd draw the line at getting her to look after him full-time - it smacks of exploitation.

Expat mum said...

I wish! We are 1,000 miles from the in-laws and 4,000 miles from my mother. I have to pay for every hour of babysitting, and we have never been away without the kids because there's no one to leave them with.
My brother and sister on the other hand, live a stone's throw from my mother and have never ever paid for babysitting. Furthermore, they used to have their kids sleep over at grandma's and didn't pick them up till their hangovers had worn off. Bloody luxury.

nappy valley girl said...

Purlyqueen - two afternoons a week sounds perfect.

Expat Mum - infuriating now, I'm sure. You have my sympathy, we have only once managed to get away without the boys. But, I guess your siblings may be the ones who also end up looking after your parents when they get old......?

Wife in Hong Kong said...

What about Mums as granny nannies? I have 74 year old mother staying from UK, v deaf and physically disabled. It's more work than a fifth child but when I'm feeling shattered it does me good to stop and remember the sacrifices she made for me. My mother nursed her own mother when she became frail, now it's my turn. I guess we just do what we can; children for their parents and parents for their children. Without a mutual willingness to help out family would have less meaning.

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

Living in Albania it's one of the things I miss most; the grandparent/grandchild interaction & relationship BUT also the babysitting provided! There we are with 4 able bodied & very keen grandparents & we live no where near them! So I really really notice the lack of support here. Babysitters are reasonably cheap but don't often speak English & have, let's say, a very different idea of child care....

More than Just a Mother said...

The notion of 'extended parenting' is much more common in other parts of Europe; here we tend to live further away from our family members, hence the need for childcare - and retirement homes. We have three sets of parents within an hour's drive, but none provides regular childcare. I wouldn't want them to - I think it must put a tremendous strain on your relationship. Anyway, of course now that I have found Mary Poppins, I really can't complain! The grandparents do, however, take a child each when we want to go away somewhere, which is fantastic. Only my mother is able to take all three at once - the other two can only manage one at a time...

that girl? said...

We've never been able to rely on either set of parents for childcare but in some ways I feel proud that we can do it ourselves. One of Other Half's siblings monopolizes all his parents time by dumping her kids on them all the time when they really could do without the added pressure. Both sets have had Small Child overnight on the odd occasion but one seems to encourage her back into all her old baby habits and the other makes a big song and dance about it first! So... like you, future weekends away will be in the trusted hands of Small Child's key worker from preschool. The cost is a downside but there's no hassle afterwards and SC is beside herself with excitement at the thought of it! Unlike aforementioned sibling we would never have had a child without knowing that we could support ourselves independently! (Oh dear... that may have be a caffeine induced rant!)