Grandparents and childcare

Grandparents and Childcare – the Pros and Cons

Seeking out the right childcare is an essential process for many parents. However, most childcare options, such as nurseries and childminders, are expensive. So, it’s little wonder that many parents look for cheaper and, indeed, free options. It’s also not surprising that the “Grandparent Option” is the most popular of the free childcare alternatives.

How common is grandparent childcare? The statistics

According to a 2017 survey by the charity Age UK(1) almost two in ten of the nation’s grandparents (aged over 50) provide regular childcare for their children’s children. That’s around five million grandparents.

Of these:

  • one in ten (12 per cent) provide childcare once a day
  • around four in ten (38 per cent) provide childcare between two and three times a week
  • almost two in ten grandparents (18 per cent) provide childcare between four and six times a week.
  • almost nine in ten (89 per cent) provide childcare for their grandchildren at least once a week

Grandparents for childcare – a natural choice?

It may seem like an obvious and natural option for your parents to help with childcare; particularly if you have a good relationship, positive memories of your own childhood, and you are confident that your parents are in good health and up to the job.

In many cultures, family members providing childcare is an ingrained part of the natural order as children arrive in families and grandparents retire from working life. For many families, it not only makes economic sense, but is also a way of ensuring that grandparents remain active and valuable members of the family.

However, using grandparents for childcare is not always plain-sailing, so it is definitely worth considering the potential pros and cons before embarking on this option. This way you can make a detailed analysis of whether it might be the right option for you and your family.

Grandparents for childcare – the pros

There are many reasons why using a grandparent for childcare might be beneficial to all the main parties – you, your parent and of course, your child. We consider some of these below:

  • Bonding: the arrangement gives your parent and child the opportunity to get to know each other outside of the typical family events such as birthdays and Christmas, allowing them to forge a real bond over many everyday activities.
  • Familiarity: you are family and therefore familiar to each other. You know all about your parents and they know all about your child. Keeping childcare in the family allows for a special kind of continuity of care and may also help ensure that your child stays in the familiar setting of home or at least the grandparental home.
  • Consistency and communication: grandparents are likely to have a good understanding of your parenting style and the needs of your child. This can help ensure a consistent nurturing environment. You may also find it easier to communicate regularly about important issues.
  • Flexibility: chances are that grandparents can be flexible and may fit more easily around you than other childcare providers. They may even be able to stay over at your home for days at a time if necessary.
  • Health: many retired grandparents enjoy and benefit from the stimulation and exercise required for looking after little ones. It may help them stay young for longer.
  • Attention: grandparents may help to ensure that your child receives plenty of one-to-one care, unlike, for example, at a day nursery or with a busy childminder.
  • Illness: not only is your child less likely to pick up coughs, colds and stomach upsets if they are not regularly mixing at close quarters with other children, they are also more likely to be cared for lovingly by a grandparent if they are feeling a bit off-colour.

Grandparents for childcare—the cons

  • Grandparents have busy lives too: some may still work, most will have busy social lives and others may simply have daily routines that they don’t want to sacrifice.
  • Tensions and disagreements: sometimes the worst and most contentious disagreements are those that occur between family members. What are the risks of this happening if your child is cared for by grandparents? Might your relationship turn into a battleground over the care of your child? If you have concerns in this regard you may wish to consider creating a ‘Family Childcare Agreement’ (see below).
  • Health: although caring for grandchildren may help to improve your parents’ health, this is not true in every case. Some grandparents may not have sufficient energy to care for young children, whether because of physical decline or because of illness or general poor health.
  • Expectations: some grandparents may find it difficult to say no to you. This can lead to them becoming overworked and potentially resentful. You need to be clear and open with each other to avoid this situation.
  • Seniority: you are putting the person who cared for you in charge of caring for your child. They may feel more qualified than you and may have difficulty accepting that ultimately, you are the one who calls the shots when it comes to determining behaviour standards, the best diet for your child and other key issues. It can be difficult to get the balance right.
  • Money: if you are not paying the grandparent, this could become an issue, especially if they are regularly feeding your child or taking them out on trips. Paying someone for childcare may also make it easier to issue directions, make requests or express constructive criticism than in situations where the childcare is essentially being done as a favour.
  • Lack of training: a grandparent may have brought you up, but they are not formally trained in early years care and may struggle to keep your child suitably occupied.
  • Lack of same-age socialisation: if your child is at day nursery or being looked after by a registered childminder, they are likely to interact with children of similar ages on a regular basis. If they spend large amounts of time with a grandparent, they miss out on this socialisation.

Family Childcare Agreements

One way to avoid unspoken problems becoming serious issues may be to draw up a Family Childcare Agreement in order to provide clarity about childcare arrangements. Details that can be included in a Family Childcare Agreement include:

  • Hours and days of childcare
  • The level of flexibility
  • The location of childcare
  • Details of any payment and expenses
  • Information about safety issues, including car seats and stair gates
  • Pertinent information about your child and their needs
  • Routines and play
  • Suitable foods and the giving of ‘treats’
  • Discipline and behaviour management

By discussing these and any other pertinent issues you may have regarding the care of your child you can hopefully prevent some of the problems mentioned above. Your agreement could be just a handwritten list of things you have agreed with your parents and with this in place you both have a starting point for the parameters of the care.


Using grandparents for childcare can be a flexible and familiar option, and may even be free. However, it is essential that the arrangement works for all parties, so it is necessary that the pros and cons of using grandparents for childcare are considered fully before rushing into a decision.

Further Reading