Work-life balance for the modern grandmother - Women's Agenda

Work-life balance for the modern grandmother

Grandmothers have become busy people, often providing help with childcare while managing their own career, household and social lives.

As Doreen Rosenthal and Susan Moore, authors of New Age Nannas: Being a Grandmother in the 21st century, explain: “The old stereotype of delicate ladies in rocking chairs, scone makers par excellence, has changed.”

Rosenthal and Moore’s research found most of the grandmothers they surveyed had a lot going on – often in either full time or part time paid work while looking after their grandchildren for varying amounts of time.

So how do grandparents manage to find work/life balance? We speak to two busy grandmothers to find out.

Enjoying the highs and the lows
MaryAnne Bennie and Tulla Ristevski are two women who know all about the challenges of working while caring for their grandchildren. They say that while supervising the children is hard work, they would not trade it for the world.

Bennie, who has five grandchildren, regularly provides 8 to 20 hours of childcare per week while also running her home, office and business. Spending so much time with the grandkids has meant she has struck up a close bond with all of them. “I absolutely adore being part of their lives. The time we have with them is beautiful and it’s good for their development and mine,” she says.

However, as much as it may be pleasurable, anxiety can set in about caring for children who are not your own. Ristevski, who has two grandchildren, says looking after grandkids can be more daunting than parenting. “You may not have been that careful about your own kids hurting themselves, but you’re more paranoid [with grandkids]!”

Balancing work and grandkids
At work, a lack of acknowledging extended family responsibilities can provide a hurdle to achieving balance according to these grandparents. Ristevski says it’s been a battle to convince her employer to reduce her hours, from full time to four days a week. “My job is a five-day-a-week job, so things can crop up on a Friday that need attending to. I did solve it a little bit by reading my emails at home, when the kids are sleeping or playing. If I think it is an urgent issue, I might attend to it or ring someone at work and say, ‘can you fix this’.”

For Bennie, the benefits some parents get from working for themselves, at home, also apply to grandmothers. She’s a personal organiser, presenter and trainer. “I don’t have that much that’s so urgent that it has a real impact, so people tend to get emails from me at three in the morning, rather than three in the afternoon,” she says.

Noting the impact on physical and mental health
Bennie sees plenty of positives running after her active grandchildren, including the fact it helps keep her fitness and energy levels high. However, being with them takes its toll on her mentally and she admits she’s happy at the end of the day, when the kids go home.

Ristevski too appreciates the down time. “I look forward to seeing the grandchildren, a day at a time or babysitting when required. It can be quite tiring at our age.”

Acknowledging the financial implications
As a grandparent, having grandchildren at home on a regular basis requires an investment in a number of things. Ristevski has made such investments happily – buying a car seat, high chair and also furnishing a special room in her house for the children to play in.

Although Bennie sometimes feels like she satisfies one of the minimum requirements for receiving financial assistance from the government – providing 35% or more care for her grandchildren – she says she’s happy to bear the costs of providing care for her grandkids.

Bennie and Ristevski’s top tips for grandparents:

  1. Be organised. Have a repertoire of favourite foods available for the kids.
  2. Promote predictability. Have your own routines and rules during their stay
  3. Don’t forego your social life. Say no if you have already made plans.
  4. Share the caring responsibility. Formal childcare and other grandparents may be able to help.


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