With all the talk of diversity, equality and inclusion I’ve suddenly become aware of a gap. Someone sent me a list of all the diversity interest groups in one of the UK Government Departments. One sparked my interest – the generation network. I wondered if it included the working grand-parent generation (baby-boomers?). I don’t know the answer yet, but it would be good if so, as grandparents are a large group of the ‘kinship carers’ looking after children.
I’ve got interested in the topic, because many of my contemporaries are working grandparents. One – who took a short time off full-time paid work to support her daughter who had just given birth – emailed a couple of us saying,
‘It’s hard for me to devote any time to work here [where her daughter lives] when I know a grandchild hug is just a room away. But I do love working! Not sure yet when I’m leaving here but have two grand-daughters back at home and I need to be there to help with as my daughter-in-law there is pregnant with third child – due in September. How do you balance it all? Open to advice!’
Another has adjusted her independent consulting workload to care for her two grandsons one day a week. And I am now a grandparent. During the pandemic I came to the conclusion that my daughter and her husband could not work full-time from home, home-school their older children, look after their younger children, etc without more support. I decided to leave my (more than) full-time work, become a freelancer, and move to a house 10 minutes’ walk from them. It’s been working well since last August. But has been a massive lifestyle shift and identity crisis for me.
The TUC (UK) did a survey in 2013 on grandparents in the workplace they found that nearly seven million grandparents provide regular childcare and at that time: ‘Working grandparents are more likely (63 per cent) to look after their grandchildren than retired grandparents (55 per cent).’ Research by Ipsos MORI in 2014 found that ‘1.9 million grandparents have given up a job, reduced their hours, or taken time off work, to look after their grandchildren. In some cases this means a loss in income.’ Thus, I am not alone, and I’m guessing the figure is much higher now.
The TUC survey notes that: ‘while the childcare provided by grandparents is hugely important, the TUC believes that this function is often not recognised or understood by employers. Of working grandparents who have never taken time off work to care for grandchildren under 16, around one in ten have not been able to do so because they have either been refused time off by their employer (3 per cent), or simply felt that they weren’t able to ask (8 per cent).’
Wide-ranging global research comes to the ‘overall conclusion that societies need to re-evaluate the role of grandparents, pay attention to the support they need, and systematically integrate kin and grandparental care into family policies. As caretakers of many of their grandchildren, who will be our future citizens, grandparents are guardians of all our tomorrows.’
Research in 2014 by Ann Buchanan reinforces the vital role grandparents play in children’s wellbeing. Her findiings started to inform UK family policy. In 2016 the UK government announced, in its spring budget, a consultation into whether shared parental leave should be extended to grandparents. An article on this reported that ‘The government’s stated intention to widen the parameters of the scheme to allow parents to share leave with grandparents reflects the changing shape of the family unit and recognises the growing role grandparents play in caring for children.’ However, in 2018 the plans to introduce working grandparental leave were put on hold and have not been revived.
In the email exchanges we were having on the topic, another friend whose own parents have been ever-present in her son’s life, (he’s now 17) said: ‘As someone on the receiving end of the active-grandparenting lifestyle, who also is single, I can testify that there is no greater gift than this form of integrated coparenting while children are young. What you are both doing will mark those children with love and security for the rest of their lives. It is, literally, impossible to raise children and work with both parts being done well. And there is no paid childcare that can provide the rich life experience of a dedicated grandmother or grandfather. The whole situation of having to work and produce children in the same phase of life is a poor design. ‘
I liked the fact that she referenced ‘poor design’ in relation to child care, which prompted me to think about this further. Several design issues sprang to my mind:
1. The design of work/jobs that skews gender equity. Women are typically in lower paid and more precarious jobs than men (in the UK, at least). They have been harder hit in the pandemic in employment terms than men. “Women are more likely to be on furlough than men and to work in sectors hit hardest by Covid, like retail and hospitality. And they bore the brunt of childcare while schools and nurseries were closed,” said Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the TUC. “Without ongoing support from ministers, many more women face losing their jobs.”
2. The design of career paths. Innovative paths are lacking, with breaks from work frowned on in many sectors, and financial support for taking a break minimal or non-existent. Why, for example do we need advice on ‘5 smart ways to fill the mummy gap on your CV?’ (and where is daddy in this?)
3. The design of systems and policies to support kinship carers (and thus working parents). See Kinship, and Working Families both organisations lobbying for better carer support. Why did employers have such lukewarm support for including grandparents in the special parental leave regulations? Only 27% felt it was a good idea, with 25% saying it was a bridge too far.
4. The design of ‘wraparound childcare’ that could help working parents i.e. breakfast and after school clubs, etc. This is costly and patchy in its availability, and now, as a result of the pandemic context, the whole sector itself is at risk. At the end of 2020 a coalition of 250 out-of-school providers called on the Government to provide ‘urgent’ financial support to save the sector from collapse.
5. The design of organisational cultures that would enable anyone, including grandparents, with caring responsibilities to maintain credibility, visibility, and feelings of professional self-worth as they balanced work and caring.
Redesigning the childcare landscape in ways that made it easier for all involved in childcare, including grandparents, would be of benefit to society, organisations, families, and individuals.
Is this something you think deserves tackling? Let me know.
Image: Barclays survey