During the pre-school years, parents often need extra childcare and this coincides with grandparents having more time to step in and help. It’s a perfect time to develop a bond with your grandchildren and find activities that you enjoy doing together.
But then they start school and their weekdays are suddenly very full. Where do you fit into this new pattern? “When my eldest grandson started school two years ago I looked after the youngest on his own. We developed ways of doing things that were fun for us both, and I miss that now he is at school,” explains Ann.
“I am worried about seeing them less, and will look forward to inset days. I will have to accept, too, that I face becoming a less important person in their lives. This is, I fear, a natural process as part of their growing up - they will have lots more activities and friends they will be busy with.”
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The role of grandparents may be different… but it’s still important
According to Grandparents Plus, the national charity for grandparents, 80% of children in the UK – seven million in total – receive some level of care from their grandparents. Their research found that a quarter of working families rely on grandparents for childcare – and this continues as parents juggle work with school drop-offs, pick-ups and the school holidays.
“The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren will change as children grow older and become more independent, but there are lots of reasons to stay involved and support your grandchildren,” says Dr Lucy Peake, Chief Executive at Grandparents Plus.
Research shows that grandparental involvement is beneficial for children and grandparents, and is especially beneficial when you enjoy things together. “If you share a love of football or music, baking or going to the cinema, doing these things together enhances wellbeing for you both and fosters strong long-term bonds,” explains Lucy.
Find time for yourself
Margaret’s granddaughter has recently started school, but she lives nearby and is still able to help with after-school care. “I’m not worried about seeing less of her as I’m still very involved, but I do miss our lunches and spending full days together hanging out,” she says.
Margaret is taking the opportunity to spend this newfound time finding activities of her own, proving how important it is to keep yourself busy. “To fill the time, I have joined yoga and a reading group, which I attend in school hours.”
How to cope when grandchildren start school
1. Let your relationship develop
It will undoubtedly be different once they start school, but try to embrace the change rather than mourn the loss.
2. Fit in with their new routine
Rather than looking after them every Tuesday, it may be more helpful to pick-up from school two days a week. If you don’t live nearby then helping out at weekends, holidays and inset days is still helpful to parents and a time the children will look forward to.
Find out how to be a good long-distance grandparent
3. Use other ways to stay in touch
Regular phone calls, Skype conversations and texts all help you to stay involved. Emailing pictures or sharing them on a WhatsApp group lets you see what they’re up to. Children love getting post too – send them letters, photos and postcards and encourage them to reciprocate.
4. Do things you both enjoy
If your grandchild associates you with going fishing, cooking or playing football they will look forward to doing those activities together whenever they see you. It also gives you something to talk about in between visits.
Read our tips for outdoor adventures to do with children
5. Keep yourself busy
Make the most of the extra time. Find something you like doing and enjoy the ‘me time’ you finally have!
Grandparents Plus offers advice to grandparents raising grandchildren and providing childcare and runs an advice service: 0300 123 7015
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