According to AGE UK, more than five million of the nation’s fourteen-million grandparents regularly care for their grandchildren, with 51% doing so for more than five years, and a further 28% for up to ten years.
Payment for Grandparents
At one time, when there was no statutory right for payment being made to grandparents caring for their grandchildren, many said they would find the offer of money an affront. Nowadays, however, those caring for grandchildren under the age of twelve could qualify for National Insurance credits, which would then top up their income in retirement. In addition to this, working parents can give up the Child Benefit credits they receive and donate them to their child’s grandparents or other adult family members for the previous tax year.
The money issue is a relatively unimportant factor in many families. What dominates is the relationship itself. It seems, however, that when it comes to day-to-day care, differences of opinion on child discipline techniques are rife, and emotions can run high between parents and grandparents. Perhaps what’s needed is a grandparents’ guide on how to discipline a child, when that child is not your own.
How to Discipline Your Child
Much depends, I suspect, on the relationship between the grandparent and the parent. I have been fortunate enough to have a deep and meaningful friendship with each of my daughters throughout their adult life. I respect their values. They respect mine. Consequently, they have always taken the line that when their children were in my care, they were also under my jurisdiction. Having approved the discipline I used in their own childhood, my children trust my methods when it comes to disciplining my grandchildren.
Making Ground Rules
When I took on care of my youngest daughter’s twins whilst she worked for two days a week, I made it clear that if I felt it necessary, I would be a ‘smacking grandma’ and joked that if that meant being sent to prison, so be it. That decision met the approval of both parents: my daughter and my son-in-law.
I don’t actually recall ever having smacked my daughters, except the eldest (when she was a teenager) and she laughingly tells me now that I broke my best wooden spoon on her bottom. But that isn’t to say that their father didn’t wallop them occasionally, nor that they ever held it against him. If the occasional smack did them no harm, they reason, neither would it do any harm to their children.
With the ground rules established, I’m glad to say that I have only once inflicted corporal punishment (in the form of a cupped hand so that humiliation, not pain, was the result) on one of my grandchildren (one of the older ones). He was being extremely rude to his mother. To this day, we are the best of friends.
Where I would draw the line is in colluding with a grandchild to flout his parents’ values. I’ve known grandmothers who have deliberately permitted their grandchildren to have forbidden sweets, or watch banned TV programs, and made it ‘our little secret.’ Quite apart from the fact that encouraging children to have secrets from their parents is a dangerous practice (frequently used by pedophiles), it is morally indefensible. One may not agree wholeheartedly with the rules imposed by parents, but the wise grandparent does well to remember that these children are not theirs.
Grandparent Visitation Rights
Grandchildren are a joy – but also a privilege. Much of the heartache expressed by grandparents occurs when they are denied access to their grandchildren. One of my greatest fears, when my daughter died, was that I would lose contact with her son. Grandparent visitation rights were, to the best of my knowledge, non-existent. Any relationship I might establish with my grandson was at the behest of his father. I’m glad to say that I have never had cause for complaint. On the contrary, my daughter’s partner has been more than generous in ensuring a natural and ongoing relationship.
But it has been a two-way affair, in which I have respected his paternal rights.
When it came to telling my grandson how his mother lived and died, I first asked his father if he would be happy for me to do so. It was a very precious moment. An experience I wrote of in my novel, A Painful Post Mortem. I made a photo album for my grandson, full of pictures of his mother from babyhood through childhood until she was a mother, herself. Beneath each picture I put a caption, relating them to some feature shared by mother and son: a smile; a touch of humor; a little sulk. As I told him of her death, we sat, the two of us, with our arms around each other, and wept. That album, I hope, will be one of his most treasured possessions.
Grandparents’ Custody Rights
I have been so fortunate. But I know of grandparents who have had to fight tooth and nail for custody of a grandchild whose upbringing might, otherwise, have been seriously at risk. Children whose natural surviving parent is totally unsuitable; children who have been forcibly fostered by strangers.
And as I look back on the years of story-telling, the mad-cap games and frivolity, the exclusive shared recipes and cooking sessions, the surprises made or purchased for mummy or dad, the holidays together, and the phone-calls finishing ‘love you,’ I can’t help feeling that there is something unique in caring for your grandchildren. Precious beyond value, full of joy and laughter, life-enhancing without ultimate responsibility – it almost makes having your own children worth while!
Mel’s latest book, PICKED FOR A PURPOSE: Bearing fruit in times of hardship, deals with mental issues. All proceeds from sales are for The Prince’s Trust, a charity empowering young people.