Should grandparents feel obliged to help out financially? Or should we be paying them for their help?

Family relaxing and playing at home

Parents and carers come in all shapes and sizes, and yet many still see grandparents as free childcare providers. Is it time to rethink this belief?

By Holly Mackay

We all seem to know someone who has the perfect sounding parents. The ones who are delighted to drop everything and rush over to support them with childcare. And go home willingly before they outstay their welcome. 

Some kind grandparents help financially, and some with childcare. Given that the average cost of full-time childcare in the UK is £252 a week, a willing grandparent can make the difference between being able to return to work or not. 

But not everyone is so willing. There are some grandparents, with packed schedules and busy lives, at pains to tell us how they would love to help BUT…

Should we pay our parents? 

When money and family mix, there is often the risk that it’ll be less cut and dried than we expect. Transactions like paying a grandparent for childcare can work out well for both parties, but there can also be family politics to navigate.

If there are two sets of grandparents helping but only one takes money from you, it could cause tension. The same can be said if there’s one grandparent looking after children from two sets of parents, but only one set can afford to pay. These may seem like silly things to squabble over, but unless you have the perfect family, it’s a good idea to be open and talk these possibilities through with everyone beforehand.  

Another thing to consider is whether the government will chip in. If a grandparent or other family member has been looking after a child under the age of 12, any time since April 2011, they may qualify for Specified Adult Childcare credits. These credits top up a family member’s National Insurance contributions, which are needed to qualify for the basic or full State Pension. As ever, there are plenty of Ts and Cs, so read up on gov.uk if you think someone you know might benefit.

Is there a moral obligation on grandparents to help? 

Of course not. Beyond the logistics and transactions, there are many who think grandparental childcare is a duty that comes with the territory. But, at a time in history when families come in all shapes and sizes and the ‘traditional’ roles of mother and father have been updated to more diverse and appropriate alternatives, is it right or fair for the role of the grandparent to stay the same?

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, Covid-19 put yet another spanner in the works here as informal childcare arrangements with family were often banned. Many working parents will still shudder at the memory of combining work calls with endless demands for snacks, questions about schoolwork and sibling squabbles. 

As we move out of the pandemic it’ll be interesting to see whether an army of grandparents, which has so stoically put up with almost a year of isolation, have a newfound keenness to help, or a newfound keenness to book holidays in the sun.

In our new podcast series, author Holly Mackay talks to Vernon Kay about some of the intergenerational challenges of parenting.


About the author

Holly Mackay

Holly has worked in finance since 1999. She is a financial expert, a commentator on investment markets and the founder and MD of Boring Money. She passionately believes that we can explain things better, and that investments shouldn’t just be for “The Old Boys”. 

Holly has appeared on or contributed to the BBC, The Times, The Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. She is living proof that you can be in Set 4 for Maths when you’re 13 and still get your head around investments.

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