“Intensive Grandparenting” Takes a Toll

Retirement holds the promise of more time to enjoy the spoils of years of hard work building financial security, raising a family and if you are lucky, tending close personal relationships.  But many older adults are finding that although they treasure their time with grandchildren, they are being asked by their grown children to pitch in on the regular with daily childcare and sometimes it can be a drain on the resources of grandparents.

With the current cost of living, most families require two incomes to be financially stable, but high childcare costs add up quickly and many parents are recruiting grandparents to take shifts looking after the little ones.  According to a recent New York Times article, sociologists have even developed a name for this commitment more older adults are making:  “intensive grandparenting” not only includes regular childcare, but it may also call for help with housekeeping, gardening, meal preparation and shuttling kids back and forth to school or extracurricular activities. 

And while grandparents undoubtedly are glad they can help and have the opportunity to develop close relationships with their grandchildren, there are some significant drawbacks.  Older adults may feel they cannot say no to helping out and feel they bear some of the responsibility for helping to secure their children’s job or marriage.  That’s a heavy load to carry for seniors who have already raised their children and wrapped up their careers; some may have even retired early to help their adult children.

Seniors who spend much of their time as a caregiver can often neglect their own health and well-being.  Tired from chasing young children around, they may not find time to get regular exercise, make medical appointments or keep up with their social engagements.  And this lack of self-care, especially in older age, can lead to burn-out and a poorer quality of life.  If adult children don’t offer to make a change in a demanding childcare schedule, grandparents feeling run down need to advocate for themselves and suggest schedule changes that allow for room to recharge.

And since many older adults continue to work or start new businesses or careers later in life, being relied on for ongoing unpaid care work for grandchildren can also take a financial toll on seniors.  Learn more about the role grandparents play in their lives of children today by following this link to recent research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family