‘My grandchildren are my world,’ writes a woman on social media, summing up a certain type of grandparent. There are, however, two ways of looking at it and I see many whose worlds revolve around their grandchildren because they have no choice. I used to chat with them at the school gate. If their families were not strictly ‘the rural poor’, they were certainly of the group Theresa May described as ‘just about managing’: both parents had to work and grandparents took up the slack, unless they were still of working age, in which case arrangements were more haphazard.
Because I had my last child late, I was as old as some school-gate grandmothers who had become parents when very young. If I found having a child in middle age tiring, how much more so did these women, looking after several? Not to mention the school holidays, when they were responsible for these grandchildren every weekday, without any time for themselves. If they wanted to meet a friend or attend the weekly market, they had to take the grandchildren with them.
I know plenty of grandparents who, having worked hard for decades, look forward to retirement and, while still fit, doing whatever they like: walking the Pennine Way, travelling the world, doing an Open University degree, taking up bridge, volunteering. They are happy to see their grandchildren regularly, but in a fun way, for treats and outings, and do not plan to provide regular childcare. They have done their share of that. Of course they would step up in an emergency but it’s hard on those grandparents who can’t enjoy their retirement because of being permanently in loco parentis.
Naturally they love their grandchildren but this is not about love, it is about fairness.