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Being a grandparent

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Some grandparents connect with their grandchildren when they visit, while other help look after them.
  • How and when you spend time with your grandchildren can depend on things like life's other demands on you and the parents, how far apart you live, and your health and strength.
  • About 1 in 4 grandparents with a grandchild aged under 13 years provides childcare at least once a week.
  • It’s important to set boundaries with the parents about how you will be involved with your grandchildren.
  • If you feel the need to discipline your grandchildren, talk to their parents first and find out what they would do.

Being a grandparent means taking on a new family role. Some grandparents connect with their grandchildren when they visit. Others help look after their grandchildren and provide childcare, especially if the parents work.

There’s no simple formula for being a successful grandparent. Every family's situation is different. Whether you are a new or more experienced grandparent, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your role.

Helping look after grandkids

About 1 in 4 grandparents with a grandchild aged under 13 years provide childcare at least once a week. How and when you spend time with your grandchildren can depend on things like:

  • life's other demands on you and the parents
  • how far apart you live
  • your health and strength

Children benefit from having a close attachment to several significant people in their lives. You can also benefit from your relationship with your grandchildren.

You can:

  • play creatively with them
  • listen to their stories
  • share your own stories
  • explore new ideas
  • give them love — then give them back to their parents

For most grandparents, it’s the freedom from the overall responsibility that separates the roles of grandparent and parent.

If your grandchild spends time at your home, think about whether you need to make any changes to make it safe for young exploring children. Make sure that things like dangerous chemicals and sharp objects are well out of reach.

Respecting the parents' decisions

Attitudes to child-raising have changed in the years since you were raising your family. There may be different parenting styles likes positive parenting, or different societal expectations about protecting your child's safety.

It helps to realise that parents will probably have their own views. It’s important to respect those views from the outset. Try and do things their way to give your grandchildren a consistent message and avoid conflict.

If you feel the need to discipline your grandchildren, talk to their parents first and find out what they would do.

If family conflict comes up for any reason, it may help save your relationship with your grandchildren if you show respect for their parents' situations.

Setting boundaries

Once the topic of caring for your grandchildren has come up, talk to their parents about how best to manage it. It's a good idea to voice what you prefer at the start.

Research has shown that caring for your grandchildren can be good for your well-being, particularly if you feel lonely or isolated. Research shows that some grandparents can feel compelled to care for their grandchildren and may not be happy about how this affects their lives.

If you have an active, busy life and have a wide circle of friends, chances are you won’t want to be 'on call' to care for your grandchildren. You may need to map out a schedule — it's okay to have your own life.

You and the children's parents should understand what each of you needs so that there are no unwelcome surprises or unmet expectations.

The plan could change over time as the child grows or the parents' work situation changes.

There may come a time when other childcare options, like day care, should be considered.

Support roles of grandparents

Grandparents can play a range of supportive roles:

  • acting as a role model for your grandchildren
  • emotional support
  • financial support

Regular contact and lending an ear can be important types of general support. You may also give more practical support, like preparing meals for the family and picking up your grandchildren from school.

Grandparents can be an important source of emotional support through difficult times.

There may be times when you feel the need for practical or emotional support yourself. If so, the maternal child health nurses at Pregnancy, Birth and Baby are there for grandparents too.

Under some circumstances, you might find yourself in a parenting role.

No matter your situation, don't forget to look after yourself. Being a grandparent should not isolate you from your friends or damage your health.

Besides, if you feel unhappy or unwell, you will be less likely to enjoy your time with your grandchildren.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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For grandparents - COPMI

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