Should grandparents be paid for child care?

Providing regular care for your grandchildren can be deeply rewarding, but also taxing. Should you be compensated for your time? Sabrina Rogers-Anderson investigates.

By Sabrina Rogers-Anderson

After decades of hard toil, retirement might have arrived or be around the corner. Your children are all grown up and the time has finally come to take a deep breath, relax and focus on yourself.

But wait… what’s this? Your kids want to know if you can watch your grandkids.

It starts with the occasional afternoon, but before long, you’re looking after them 3 days a week while their parents work.

You may welcome the opportunity to give your children a helping hand and bond with your grandchildren. But it’s also possible that the chaos of poo explosions and toddler tantrums may not have been what you imagined.

A retired grandmother earned support online after refusing to babysit her daughter’s newborn child for free - when her 29-year-old daughter went to online forum, Reddit, to discuss the issue, the thread exploded.

So, given the time and energy you devote to helping raise your grandchildren, should you be compensated for your time?

After speaking to 4 families, one thing is clear: it’s a divisive question.

Here’s what they had to say, as well as some tips on setting boundaries around child care and information on subsidies you may be entitled to receive.

The case for no: ‘He would be offended if we offered’

When Sarah’s boys were aged 5 and 2, her mother-in-law drove from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast twice a week to look after them.

“She would bring Noah to school and look after Will all day,” says Sarah. “It was over an hour drive each way, but she was passionate about doing it. She was so kind and gentle with the kids, and she would cook dinner, clean the house and fold the washing. She did so much for us and it was a huge money saver. She would have shouted us down if we’d brought up paying her.”

Grandmothers aren’t the only ones who are keen to spend quality time with their grandkids.

“My dad recently came to live with us for 9 months and he was like a live-in nanny!” says Sydney mum-of-three Amelia. “He did all the cooking, clearing up the kitchen and ferrying the kids around to activities.

“When my eldest was young, he would take a 2-hour train ride and sleep on our sofa bed twice a week so I could work. He also looks after both of my sister’s kids regularly. He’s never wanted a penny from us and he would be offended if we offered.”

The case for yes: ‘My mum gave up her job to help me’

When Claire landed a new full-time job when her kids were 2 years and 6 months old, she couldn’t find a day care with openings in her area.

“I chatted to Mum and she offered to do it, but she would need to quit her job as a receptionist 2 days a week,” Claire explains. “She needed that income because Dad had a stroke and couldn’t work, so I offered to pay her the same amount she made at her job, which was less than day care would have cost me. It was win-win. Mum loved looking after the kids and to this day they’re so bonded to her.”

Meeting halfway: ‘I paid for expenses and gifts’

Jade has been raising her son on her own since he was 5 months old.

“My mum moved from Bundaberg to Toowoomba when Ashton was one to help me out,” she says. “He’s in school now, but she looked after him almost full-time from ages one to 5 while I worked.

“She didn’t want me to pay her, and I couldn’t afford it anyway, but I’d pay for stuff like tickets to the movies and indoor playgrounds so they could have fun outings. Then I’d sometimes get her thank-you gifts like her favourite hand cream or a bottle of wine. I just wanted her to know how much I appreciated her help.”  

4 areas to consider when setting boundaries around child care

Discussing the parameters of your child care arrangement can help it go smoothly and ensure everyone is happy. While it’s best to have a chat before you start caring for your grandkids, it’s never too late to set boundaries.

Some things you may wish to discuss include:

When and how often: If long days with your grandkids exhaust you or you have other commitments, make your availability clear. You might say, “I can only look after them for 2 full days each week, but I’m happy to pick them up from day care on the other days.”

Holidays and sick days: Discuss what will happen if you or your grandkids are sick, whether you’ll be expected to help more during school holidays and what alternative arrangements are available when you go on holidays.

Payment and expenses: Do you feel you should be paid for your child care duties? Maybe you’d simply like your expenses, including travel and outings, to be covered? Discuss your expectations openly and honestly.

Routines and rules: Chat about your children’s expectations around mealtimes, bedtime, screen time and so on. If you plan to deviate from their routines and rules, ask them if it’s OK. Some parents might be fine with grandma handing out lollies like a Christmas elf while others may want you to stick to carrot sticks.

It’s a good idea to sit down together every few months to discuss what’s working well and what isn’t. Open communication will help keep frustration and resentment at bay.

Subsidies available for grandparents

If, like Jade’s mum, you provide the majority of the care for your grandchild or grandchildren, you may be eligible for the Australian Government’s Child Care Subsidy(CCS) or Additional Child Care Subsidy Grandparent.

This can help you cover the cost of an approved child care service if you need help looking after your grandkids.

To receive CCS, you must:

● Care for a child 13 or younger who doesn’t attend secondary school (certain exemptions apply) at least 2 nights per fortnight (or 14% of the time).
● Use an approved child care service.
● Be responsible for paying their child care fees.
● Meet residency and immunisation requirements.

To be eligible for the Additional Child Care Subsidy Grandparent, you must:

● Be the grandparent of the child.
● Have 65% or more care of the child.
● Be eligible for Child Care Subsidy.
● Get an income support payment.
● Make the day-to-day decisions about the child’s care, welfare and development.

Read more about support for grandparent carers.

If you have any questions about your eligibility or need advice, you can call the government’s Grandparents Advisers Line on 1800 245 965 (callers with hearing or speech impairment can call 1800 810 586).

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