Grandparents: The Unsung Heroes of the Child Care Crisis
When I was pregnant with my first child, I realized that my entire paycheck would go to paying for infant care. Thank goodness, I was one of the lucky parents who had the support of the grandparents: My mother stepped in and provided child care every day, full time, from the time I went back to work from my unpaid maternity leave, until she suffered a fainting spell and we knew the long days were too much for my mother, who was in her 60s. When that happened, we called my mother-in-law and she came to stay with us for a month, until we figured out our child care situation.
One of my colleagues, Nina, also has had to rely on her parents for child care. Nina’s parents moved over 1000 miles from Miami to Maryland to help provide care for her little one.
Meghann, another one of my colleagues, shares how the pandemic made her realize how much she relied on her mother-in-law for child care. Not knowing anyone in DC where they moved to work, they were lucky to have family who relocated to Northern Virginia and whom they relied on for child care.
Our experiences are not uncommon. Many parents rely on their own parents to help with child care. And, you know what? There are many things to celebrate in grandparent care. Grandparents, grandmothers in particular, are those who pass down traditions, who are recipe keepers and storytellers. There is also a unique bond with grandparents that can be so supportive to social and emotional development. I’m very grateful for the help I’ve received -- and I’m happy my children got to bond with their grandparents in the way that they have, however, I also know that my parents are older adults, and it’s a challenge for them to provide full-time child care.
But, the truth is, many grandparents are providing care because they see their children have no other option. Patricia, in Connecticut, shared with us “I drive 2.5 hours each way to watch my grandkids because care is mega expensive and my daughter couldn’t work if she had to pay childcare. This is nuts. I’m 70 and need my rest but I can’t handle her having to scrape by for child care.”
Our child care system is in crisis, and grandparents have been one of the unsung heroes of the child care crisis, but solving the child care puzzle shouldn’t be left up to them. As one 66 year old grandma from North Carolina shared with us, “Don’t take this wrong, I love my grandchildren but I’m not physically able to take care of a rambunctious toddler 8 hours a day.” Not to mention that many grandparents who are primary guardians for their grandchildren also need access to child care.
These stories are proof: grandparents cannot be expected to solve the child care crisis alone. FFN (family, friends and neighbors) care is a critical part of the child care system that needs to be better valued, but it cannot be the only type of care parents rely on.
Having grandparent care should be a meaningful choice - one that is done because it works for the whole family. NOT a forced last resort because of our broken child care system.
This week we celebrate Grandparents Day (September 12th) and we want to honor our grandparents as caregivers-- and that means making ChildCare4all a reality to ensure families (including grandparents who are legal guardians and primary caregivers) can make meaningful choices in affordable, high-quality child care no matter where they live. Sign our petition here.