What it's like to be a grandparent
Being a grandparent will vary from family to family. It’s a good idea to think about how things might work in advance, and discuss this with the parents. Your relationship with your grandchildren might be affected by:
- how close you live to your grandchildren
- your relationship with your child
- how much time you are able to give to being with your grandchildren
- whether your child and their partner are still on good terms.
Grandparents and grandchildren often enjoy a close relationship, where they might do a number of things together. For example, babysitting, going on holiday or outings, talking about family history, playing games or sharing advice.
I think if you’re fortunate enough to have them near you, they keep you young, because there’s always something happening, isn’t there?
Dos and don’ts for new grandparents
- be supportive of the parents and let them take the lead
- do your research – remember, parenting advice changes over time
- take advantage of technology to stay in touch. If your grandchildren live further away, online video calls through Skype or Facetime allow you to see and speak to them. Or you could try email, text messages and social networking sites
- make sure your home is safe for visiting grandchildren and you have any equipment you need, such as a car seat if you’ll be driving young children
- give your grandchildren treats if you want to. However, make sure you’re not setting yourself up against their parents, for example by spending more on them than their parents could afford, or by regularly giving them more sweets than their parents would allow.
- undermine the parents – for example, by giving your grandchildren food you know their parents have forbidden
- be competitive with the other grandparents
- make assumptions based on your own experiences – for example, that a child should be walking or talking by a certain age
- spend more than you can afford. Don’t feel you have to say yes to everything your grandchildren (or their parents) ask for
- exhaust yourself. Looking after young children can be very tiring. If you’ve taken on more than you can manage, discuss it with their parents.
One of the things I notice with my grandchildren is the joy that they bring. They show a great deal of interest in what I’m doing and how I am. It’s just lovely having grandchildren who are really interested in you and concerned about you.
Babysitting and childcare
Many parents rely on grandparents to look after children to some extent. If you’re likely to be providing some level of childcare, you might want to agree in advance how much time you can give to this. Most grandparents will want to spend time with their grandchildren and will be happy to give parents a break from time to time, but no one wants to be taken for granted.
These days, grandparents are increasingly being asked to help with childcare, but this can be practically and financially challenging. Looking after young children can be exhausting and the cost of food, drink and outings can also add up. Make sure you’re happy with whatever arrangements are in place, and discuss it with the parents if you’re not. For example, parents could contribute to the expenses of looking after grandchildren, such as meals, if you’re looking after them regularly. If they want to pay you a wage, you’ll need to become a registered childminder.
I’m retired, but the thing is there’s always someone coming in saying: 'Nan, can you mend this?' or 'can you do this sewing for me?' or 'can you pick the children up from school?'
Access to grandchildren
If your grandchildren’s parents divorce or their relationship breaks down, or if one parent dies, sadly this can sometimes lead to you losing touch with your grandchildren. It’s best to try to resolve this informally at first, by discussing the situation with your adult child and/or their partner. You could also try family mediation, where an independent, trained mediator helps you to try to reach an agreement. National Family Mediation has more information about this. There may be a charge for mediation services.
Unfortunately, grandparents don’t have an automatic right to apply for access to their grandchildren. If all else fails, you can ask a court for permission to apply for a child arrangements order to agree access. This can be expensive and stressful for all concerned, so it should be a last resort.
Grandparents Plus has more information and advice if you've lost touch with your grandchildren.
My son and I fell out and he asked me not to contact my grandson anymore. I can’t understand what’s happened to affect our relationship in this way. My grandson has written to me to say he misses me.