Grandparents feel forced to retire early or are pushing themselves to exhaustion as they fill the gaps of a “broken childcare system” to allow their own children to go to work and pursue their careers, i has learned.
One in four grandparents (23 per cent) say they are retiring early to provide childcare for their grandchildren to help out their children desperately trying to work amid a costly and inflexible childcare system, research reveals.
As parents buckling under the pressure of juggling childcare, particularly during the cost of living crisis, are considering leaving their jobs, more than one in 10 (13 per cent) of grandparents have also admitted dipping into their savings and pension pots to support their offspring with childcare costs.
i spoke to women who reveal without the huge continuing support of their mothers, their careers would have come to an abrupt end and they would never have been able to progress as their promotion prospects would have been curtailed.
They and their mothers say that they believe the goodwill of grandparents is being “taken advantage of” by a Government providing a “failing and broken childcare system” which is stopping many parents, particularly women, from pursuing their careers.
Grandparents tell i that while they love their grandchildren and want to help, it can be a struggle for many of their generation to cope with the energy of young children, especially when it is through necessity, rather than choice.
Atima Bhanagar, 43, became vice-president for operations and quality at a biotech pharmaceutical company this year. But she knows had it not been for her mother Meena who came to her rescue with childcare after her twin daughters Riya and Aanya were born, her career would have come to an end or her promotion prospects would have been severely impacted.
Atima, tells i she and partner Mark Maryon were bewildered about how they would cope when they discovered she was pregnant with twins at the age of 31. Atima said: “We started thinking: ‘How are we going to do this?’ It wasn’t just a case of putting one child through childcare, we were going to have to pay for double of everything.
“There was no way we could have managed on the wage I was on at the time. I didn’t want to reduce my hours and work less days as I knew my career progression would have been stunted. And it wouldn’t have helped as it would have meant taking a pay cut.
“If I’d had to reduce my working hours earlier in my career, there is no way I could have progressed to director level and I wouldn’t be in the role I am today.”
With Atima being the main breadwinner, the couple initially decided Mark, a videographer, would become a stay-at-home dad. But Atima says: “When you’re trying to run a house and pay for everything, even that isn’t necessarily a viable option.”
Luckily for Atima, her mum Meena, who worked as a secondary school teacher, had the opportunity to take early retirement and redundancy at 61 and decided to provide childcare for her granddaughters. “We never wanted to go down the nanny route – and couldn’t have afforded it back then anyway,” explains Atima. “I wanted my children to be brought up by people who were close to me – and if that wasn’t going to be me, I wanted it to be my mum.”
Ever since Riya and Aanya were born, grandmother Meena put her life on hold to provide all the childcare. She didn’t take on another teaching role and gave up her associated pursuits and social time to care for them.
Even now at the age of 72, Meena is heavily involved in childcare for the twins, now 11, allowing Atima and Mark to work full-time. “We still rely on my mum heavily and she picks the girls up from school and takes them to her home and sorts dinner for them, then after we’ve finished work, they come to us,” says Atima.
“I do feel guilty as my mum literally stopped everything she did for us. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be in the role I am in now as vice-president. It only happened because she stepped in and pretty much looked after my children full-time.”
Atima tells i that she feels mixed emotions at achieving so much in her career as she knows it was only made possible due to her mum’s sacrifices. “I feel so blessed and lucky to have had my mum around to do those things.
“Some people call me ‘supermum’, but I tell them without my mum, I would never have been able to do this. With having such a heavy-duty career, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am now.
“My mum is like a second mum to my daughters and there are times such as when they’re in pain, they’ll say: ‘I want grandma’ as she’s always been there for them.”
Atima says she cannot imagine how hard juggling childcare and a career is for parents who don’t have grandparents to help and knows many women will have reluctantly made the decision to give up work.
“The juggling act is massively stressful and childcare is so expensive. I’m not the kind of person who would want to completely give up my career. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for women who don’t have that help to give up work when that’s not what they actually want.
“It’s a mad juggling act even now and without my mum, it would have created a level of stress I wouldn’t have been able to handle and I wouldn’t have been able to progress in my career.
“Women should not have to choose between their career and having children and it isn’t fair that grandparents are forced to take such an important role because of the childcare system.”
Grandmother Meena tells i that she was shocked when she realised how expensive childcare was when her granddaughters were born. She says at that stage in her life, she didn’t feel it was fair to see her daughter or her partner give up work or drastically reduce their hours as she knew that ultimately, her grandchildren would miss out.
“I wanted to help Atima because she is my daughter and there was no way she could work full-time and manage everything,” says Meena.
“Even now, I’m doing things like making breakfast and lunches and picking the girls up from school because Atima has a very demanding job and her partner Mark, who is a videographer, often has to travel to different places.”
However, Meena says she does sometimes have pangs of regret as she knows at the age of 61 when her granddaughters were born, she could have taken up another teaching role as her skills were in demand. She also stopped training future teachers for the Open University.
She says even her social life was affected as she knew she couldn’t do things like take extended holidays as she was needed for childcare.
“The exorbitant charges for childcare for two children means parents are paying one entire salary on nursery costs and that isn’t right,” says Meena. “That’s why so many women end up leaving work.
“Grandparents are having to make sacrifices, but we do it for our children and grandchildren and want to be there for the family.
“But it is tiring for grandparents and I feel the Government takes our role in childcare for granted.”
New data from Bubble, the on-demand, flexible childcare app used by more than 200,000 people in the UK, found 67 per cent of parents had considered leaving their jobs due to the pressures of juggling childcare.
Their survey of more than 1,000 parents of children aged five and under found that as a result of the childcare pressures, one in four grandparents felt forced to retire earlier than planned.
Anna Whitehouse, founder of Mother Pukka, which campaigns for flexible working, says she could not have carried on working without her mum Lucia, now 70.
Anna, 41, who is married with two daughters aged nine and five, was working at a magazine after having her first daughter when her mother stepped in to help with childcare after Anna realised she was only left with £4.50 a month after childcare costs came out of her salary.
“We couldn’t afford rent, we couldn’t afford childcare costs and we couldn’t afford for both of us to work,” recalls Anna. “But the alternative was me giving up a career that I had fought tooth and nail for.
“Both my husband and I needed to work as although I wasn’t a high earner, I knew there was a future where I could be a high earner, but I needed to stay in the game.”
Anna’s mum Lucia, who lives in Buckinghamshire, began making a two-hour each way train journey to London each week to collect her granddaughter and then keep her at her home for three nights to look after her, before taking her back home again.
Lucia ended up doing this for over a year and Anna says her mum reached a point where she was exhausted and burnt out looking after her granddaughter.
“I realised I couldn’t expect my mum to do that any more and it wasn’t fair. But we couldn’t afford to do anything else. So I launched Mother Pukka to take the skills that I had to make something from nothing and allow me to do a job while looking after my children.”
Anna tells i she is a “huge anomaly” as she has managed to “gather the scraps” of her career to form something that allows her to work flexibly, while fighting for flexible working.
However, she is angered that the goodwill of grandparents is being taken for granted by the Government.
“My main frustration is that it is referred to as ‘granny daycare’, when in reality, it is ‘no other option care,’” says Anna. “The goodwill of grandparents who love their grandchildren is being completely tested by the Government which is expecting them to plug all the childcare cracks.
“I have seen my parents not be able to go away or do things they wanted to because of childcare.
“There is no way I would have any career now if it wasn’t for my mum who still helps us so much now. It is not just about childcare costs, it is about the flexibility. The nature of my job as a freelancer means I often get called to do things last minute. As childcare is rarely flexible, without my mum, I couldn’t do this.”
Anna believes grandparents are being pushed to the edge and can’t even organise things like lunch with their own friends because they know they are needed for childcare. “Even though they want to spend time with their grandchildren, there is a difference between wanting and needing,” says Anna.
Anna believes many grandparents want to help their children as they don’t want to see them give up their dream careers or miss out on future goals.
“A lot of it is the goodwill of a generation who want to see us succeed because they couldn’t,” says Anna. “My mum grew up in an era where it was very much expected that women stayed at home.
“There’s a fight in my mum as well to break the expectations that society still puts on mothers.”
Anna’s mum Lucia still looks after Anna’s children during times like school holidays, but now looks after them on her terms. “It’s not ‘granny daycare’ any more, it’s being a grandparent and there’s a huge difference,” says Anna.
Grandmother Lucia tells i: “There’s an army of us, a silent silver army filling all the cracks of a broken childcare system.
“Of course we do it willingly because we love our children and their children. But our goodwill is being taken advantage of by the Government.
“I did everything any mother or grandmother would do for a child. But I’m not young any more and I struggled with the energy of a toddler. I tried my hardest, but I was exhausted by the end of the day.
“The joy of being able to be there for your grandchild is incredible. But the expectation that you will fill the childcare gap is exhausting for many of our generation.”
Lucia says grandparents looking after grandchildren can also lead to health and safety issues. “I have one friend who passed out and hit her head on the washing machine when she had a toddler in her care,” she says. “We aren’t all fit enough at our age to be running around after toddlers.”
A Department for Education spokesperson tells i: “Grandparents can play a hugely important role in family life, and we recognise the cost pressures that childcare can create for parents.
“This is why we are making the single biggest ever investment in childcare in our country’s history which will provide families with access to high-quality, affordable childcare from nine months to when they start school.”