Lauren* knows how lucky she is. Three mornings a week, at 6.45am, as the Sunshine Coast mum-of-three and her husband Matt* are preparing to leave for work, her parents turn up to her house.
They get the two oldest children, Grace* and Ruby*, ready for school and drop them off. Then they spend the day looking after two-year-old Violet*, taking her on walks and “adventures”, till it’s time to pick up Grace and Ruby.
“They do so much,” Lauren tells Mamamia. “And Mum does all my laundry and cleans up all my kitchen dishes from the breakfast in the morning. She doesn’t leave till five o’clock when I get home.”
She says having her parents look after the kids three days a week – and Matt’s parents looking after them one day a week – saves the family “huge amounts of money”. It also takes away a lot of stress.
“I don’t have to worry about trying to get them dressed and ready to go to before-school care, or rush to finish work early to be back to pick them up. Or if there’s something at school, I know Mum can be there.
“All of my friends tell me all of the time how lucky I am to have Mum and Dad to help out. I know how hard it is for people that don’t have that support around trying to juggle work and kids. I appreciate that I have it easier than a lot of people in that regard.”
Lauren isn’t the only lucky one. A new report by finder.com.au has revealed that almost a quarter of kids under the age of five are looked after by their grandparents instead of going to formal childcare. It’s estimated this saves $2.29 billion in childcare costs.
A finder.com.au survey found that 45 per cent of Australians felt grandparents should be paid for babysitting.
But Lauren’s mum, Fiona*, doesn’t think that’s necessary.
“I certainly don’t expect my children to pay me to look after their children,” she says. “It fills in the days for us and hopefully our children appreciate what we do for them but no, we don’t expect to get paid. We enjoy it.”
She doesn’t have a problem with the early starts, or with doing a bit of housework at her daughter’s place.
“You’re there, you might as well. We’re not going to sit and look at the phone and Facebook all day or whatever.”
Fiona says she and her husband retired early, so they’re not “old grandparents”. Still, she admits that looking after three children is tiring.
“Obviously at times we go, ‘Oh, that was a long day,’ and there is a glass of wine at the end.”
Another new report, Nickelodeon Australia’s “The Grand Illusion: Being Grandparents in the 21st Century”, has found that a third of grandparents contribute to the cost of raising their grandchildren. Retired grandparents spend the most on them – an average of just over $400 a month. Forty per cent say they make sacrifices to provide care for their grandchildren.
Lauren says she feels guilty, “a lot”, about all the work her parents put in to look after her children. She buys them gifts to show her appreciation.
“Each week when I put the petrol in the car then I will get an extra treat, like a box of chocolates, and leave it in the car for them, for when they get back in the car and they’re heading home.”
Fiona says she doesn’t think she could look after her grandchildren “all day, every day, for the rest of my days”. But she knows it’s only a short-term thing.
“It will be a very short amount of time and they’ll all be at school and doing their own thing and they won’t want to hang out with the old grandparents anymore. Then we’ll move on.”
Do your parents help out with looking after your children? Should grandparents be paid? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
*Names have been changed