National Post

Saturday, December 19, 1998

The new childcare answer: super-grandparents

Olivia Hart
National Post, with files from The Daily Telegraph

Deva Gajic has taken early retirement to babysit her children's children.

Starting out retirement changing diapers, heating up bottles, and soothing teething children isn't what most people view as a reward for years of hard work. But according to researchers from the Centre for Family Studies at Newcastle University in Britain, a new generation of super-grandparent is emerging, taking over babysitting, shopping, and housework duties in households vacated for much of the day by dual-income parents.

And even though grandparents are willingly accepted into dual-income households, their advice on upbringing is frequently rejected, the study found.

Mrs. Gajic, who lives in Mississauga, says she belongs to a network of grandmothers who have retired early or taken severance packages to help their children by babysitting the grandchildren.

"Some of us were friends before, but most of us are neighbours who have met on the street while taking strolls with the kids.''

But Mrs. Gajic and other Canadians like her say the early retirement package her company offered, and her daughter's exorbitant day care costs, made the decision easy. There is also a trust issue.

"I have to work and there is no one else I could trust more to look after my child than my own mother,'' says Bianca Edmonds, Mrs. Gajic's daughter.

It's also better value for her babysitting dollar. She pays her mother $100 a week and sometimes dinner is included. But Mrs. Gajic does get some help. After 30 years working days, Mr. Gajic has switched to an afternoon shift to help his wife look after their grandchild.

"We love it,'' they say. Adds Mrs. Gajic: "We haven't been this happy in a long time; we can't wait for more [grand] kids.''

Alice Garcia didn't want to quit her job and babysit her grandchild, but then she "fell in love with the little fella'' and even took in her sister-in-law's grandchild.

Joe Bush retired early to help his wife babysit their grandchildren. They drive from Scarborough to Pickering each day to look after their daughter's growing family.

Joan Norris, professor of family relations at the University of Guelph, has studied the moral importance of grandparents in the family. However, she says the grandparents interviewed have mentioned they "don't want to be permanent babysitters, but that they would help if they had to.''

She also says that to her knowledge there isn't a study addressing the issue of grandparents leaving work to become babysitters, and admits that if studies were done, cultural and social-economic backgrounds could produce very different results.

The Newcastle study found that the rise in double income families, combined with increased longevity, had led to the increase in grandparents' involvement. Grandparents that became fulltime babysitters thought they played a much more valuable role than their parents had, the study says. However, there was "considerable negotiation'' over what constituted support and what was considered interference. Most grandparents found it difficult reconciling the heavy support they gave with the little input they were allowed over decisions.

When asked whether her daughter had any objections to how she looked after her grandchild, Mrs. Gajic said: "Oh yeah, every day. But I just ignore her. I mean, I raised four girls and she thinks I'm doing things the wrong way . . . we fight, but then she comes over and says, 'Mom, let's go shopping.' ''

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