Australia’s grandmothers are typically happy to take on child-minding duties but that doesn’t mean they’re safe from becoming overburdened, the authors of a new report have reminded families.
Just under two-thirds (60 per cent) of women in their mid-sixties and more than one in ten in their late-eighties provide regular, unpaid childcare, the report on the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health found.
Professor Julie Byles, study director at the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute, said these efforts often go unrecognised.
“Estimates of economic impact tend to narrowly define informal caregiving as looking after the ill, disabled or frail and don’t include childcare,” Byles said.
Still, 90 per cent of grandmothers in one cohort looked at said they were happy to take care of the kids.
Associate Professor Leigh Tooth from the University of Queensland said the report also found grandmothers providing childcare generally felt they were in good health.
“Their self-rated health was higher than non-carers and women providing care for another adult they lived with,” Tooth said. “They made fewer GP visits and reported lower levels of anxiety and depression.”
Despite this sunny outlook, Tooth cautioned against overburdening grandmothers.
“Roughly one in four women in their sixties are part of the sandwich generation, providing care for a grandchild as well as an adult who is ill, disabled or frail,” she said. “When these women cared for a grandchild and another adult, they were more likely to be depressed, have higher levels of stress and make more visits to the GP.”
As one participant put it:
… between helping our daughter raise the 2 gorgeous girls, also supporting her through a dreadful divorce (words can’t describe what her ex-husband is putting her through), together with the daily challenges of my mother with Alzheimer’s, [my] supportive, beautiful husband and I have very little free time to enjoy our 60’s – we didn’t in our wildest dreams think we would be in this situation at our age, having worked so hard together for the past 41 years… All of the above is taking a huge toll on our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. I can’t see it ending anytime soon – its 24/7 stress. No wonder our generation is referred to as: ‘the sandwich’ generation!”
The report held that more accessible and affordable child care options for parents returning to work may reduce the burden on grandparents of caring for their grandchildren.
The authors also called for more research into the impact of long-term multigenerational caregiving among those who are reaching retirement age, and who are experiencing their own age-related health issues.Do you have an idea for a story?
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