Your six months of maternity leave are over and you have to go back to work.
The thought of leaving your baby is painful, but you are looking forward to the adult interaction and stimulation you’ll encounter in your workplace. Fortunately, you don’t have to leave your child with a stranger. Your mother lives nearby and is willing to care for her while you are working.
Having someone you trust as your caregiver makes the separation easier. And, according to a recent study carried out by GrandparentsPlus, around one in three mothers in paid work receive help with childcare from grandparents.
But caring for children is only one type of care that family members provide. On the other end of the age spectrum, many family members provide care for their ageing parents, often in addition to holding a full-time job and having children of their own to care for.
Pros and cons of using family members as caregivers
When trusted and loving family members provide care, the pros are significant. Most important, worries about your child’s or elderly parent’s safety are greatly lessened; you know the care will be high quality and that you can rely on the caregiver to show up when she says she will. As a family member, the caregiver has a strong attachment to the child or elder and will usually do what she can to accommodate unexpected changes in scheduling that seem to arise in life — which can make a tremendous difference for you.
On the negative side, the burdens of caregiving can sometimes lead to resentment and friction amongst family members, especially when the primary caregiver feels that others don’t help enough. And in some families the stress of providing care on a regular basis can lead to the resurgence of old family patterns, with one child again being labelled as the good child, another as the favourite, and another as the irresponsible one.
If a person provides care in addition to working and parenting, or if the caregiver devotes herself to caregiving on a full time basis and has no time for herself it can all become extremely overwhelming. Far too many caregivers have excessive expectations of themselves, leading to feelings of guilt and inadequacy, despite their devotion to their tasks. Carers UK report that more than 600,000 people suffer mental and physical ill health as a direct consequence of the stresses and physical demands of caring.
In all of these cases, negotiating care giving relationships with family members can feel a bit awkward. They aren’t hired help, as they are still your beloved family member. And yet you want to agree on responsibilities and expectations, safety limits, and more. All of this falls into a grey area, a murky river through which each family seems to navigate in its own way.
Elder care numbers
As life expectancy increases, there is a growing ageing population, many of whom require some form of care. There are over six million carers in the United Kingdom, with around 1.25 million people providing unpaid care for more than 50 hours per week (NHS Survey of Carers 2009/2010; Census 2001, Office for National Statistics). Care for the Family assess that the primary carers of elderly relatives are women in their 50s, though many can be 75 years old or more. Of these six million carers in the UK, 2.8 million are those over the age of 50, caring for their parents. Carers UK suggest that these unpaid carers save the economy £119 billion per year, with 6000 people every day taking on a new care responsibility.
Child care numbers
When in need of childcare support, grandparents are often the number on speed dial. Grandparents Plus documented a pan-European survey that showed 58% of grandmothers and 50% or grandfathers provided at least regular, or occasional childcare for any grandchildren under the age of 15.
Grandchildren under the age of five receive most care from grandparents. It is grandmothers who spend the most time looking after them, and a recent report issued by Daycare Trust assessed that Grandparents are the most common form of informal care providers.
This survey indicated that just 6% of grandparents were paid to provide childcare.
This suggests that there may be some families who have unresolved financial issues at the heart of these arrangements. If you are considering using grandparents as carers, don’t forget to cover off who pays for what – outings, lunches, travel expenses. Even if your parents don’t want to be paid, they will appreciate that you don’t take them for granted.