With childcare too expensive and too difficult to get into, an increasing number of parents are turning to the old fashioned method of childcare: their own parents.
Research out today shows that grandparents help out with childcare for half of all children one day a week. For a quarter of children, this happens twice a week.
A study of 8000 children by the Australian Institute of Family Studies — using longitudinal data from the Growing Up Australia program — has revealed that 17 per cent of children aged 4-5 have experienced some form of grandparent care for most of their life.
And seven per cent of 4-5 year olds actually live with both their parents and grandparents in the same household.
The study found that maternal grandparents were more likely to be providing childcare than paternal grandparents. But as life got busier and children grew older, time with their grandparents declined.
AIFS senior research fellow Jennifer Baxter told The Australian it was more common for families with live-in grandparents to be single parents or speak a language other than English at home, but the arrangement could benefit all generations.
“It may be that a grandparent is living with the family because they need support and assistance, or simply to allow for family members to spend time together and develop relationships,” Dr Baxter said.
“However, the study indicates that co-resident grandparents are providing some support to children and parents, particularly assistance with housing or financial support for a period of time.
Just five per cent of grandparents are paid by their children and only one per cent of grandparent carers are registered for the Child Care Benefit.
Anyone with grandparents nearby willing to dip in and help with childcare either on a regular basis or in an emergency knows the massive sacrifice this generation makes. Retirement plans are often put on hold while they go back to performing tasks they thought were behind them.
For a few families a form of formal compensation exists whereby grandparents are paid a token amount by the parents to help them out, but millions of others are simply expected to do it out of love.
Last year Independent senator Glenn Lazarus and Jackie Lambie floated the idea for a “grandparent payment” whereby grandparents would be financially rewarded for looking after the children of working parents.
It was shot down despite the fact traditional carers, mothers, have increased their workforce participation -- as is, of course, actively encouraged by both sides of politics.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government had no plans to pay grandparents for “doing the normal thing.”
What dismayed many at the time is that the system of a grandparent payment works well in other countries.
In the UK grandparents who provide childcare can apply for credits, called ‘Specified Adult Childcare Credits’, which count towards a basic state pension.
It is something 40 per cent of Australian grandparents say they’d like to see introduced here.
A recent study found two in five Australian grandparents believed they should be paid for taking care of their grandchildren by the children's parents.
Though Simon Hovell from the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency told Fairfax Media that it’s likely the number is higher.
"There is a stigma around asking for money," Mr Hovell said.
"It's reasonable to assume that there is a percentage of grandparents who would like to be paid, but feel uncomfortable asking for it."
Many grandparents openly admit to fearing they will be shunned by their children if they think they are just in it for the money.
"I'd love to ask my daughter for a bit of extra cash but I am too afraid if I did she would react badly and cut off my contact with my grandkids," wrote one frightened grandmother online.
Another said: "It's expensive, you are feeding another person, paying for outings, paying for your own petrol to get around but I'd never dare complain in case I didn't get to see my grandson."
While some families do manage to reimburse grandparents for expenses, it's fairly rare and studies have shown that while grandparents secretly want the extra cash, the majority of parents believe they should just do it for the love of it.