Grandparents are fitter than previous generations, and they are more likely to have an adult daughter in employment. Changing family form means those grandparents are more likely to have experienced divorce or separation, as are their children's generation. All this means that being a grandparent has never been so complex. They must meet the needs of a wider family that can include ex-spouses, former sons and daughters-in-law, and step-grandchildren. These webs of relationships can be fluid, complex and potentially very challenging.
Grandparents are also increasingly finding themselves acting as an important provider of childcare. One in three families now rely on grandparents for childcare, rising to one in two for single parents. Nursery workers are, of course, aware of this trend, as they meet these hardworking grandparents at the nursery gates.
We all know, of course, that relationships with grandparents are wonderful for small children. Grandparents are 'one step away from the coalface' and can offer priceless emotional support if there are problems in the immediate family or during critical times in a child's life, such as transition to school or adolescence.
But the changes I have described could mean that for small children, time with grandparents begins to feel exactly the same as time with parents. Grandparents are increasingly overworked, stressed and anxious. With the average age of becoming a grandparent just 49, grandparents themselves are often also trying to balance work and family commitments as well as sometimes caring for their own parents.
All who work in the family sector, including nursery workers, must strive to ensure they are aware of the particular needs of grandparents. We all know that parents who arrive at the gates of the nursery are often dashing straight from the office. But we must never patronise grandparents, as they are forced to juggle their roles too.
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