ONE of my late husband’s favourite monologues – directed at anyone fortunate or unfortunate enough to be within earshot – was on the importance of tri-generational unity. What’s that, you may ask, as people did. Well, it was about having grandparents around and keeping them involved in family life. His grandmother, he said, was the most significant person in his life. When we had children he insisted, despite frequent sparring between him and my mother, that she and my father should be involved as much as possible. It wasn’t just about the help my mother gave me with our small children, it was about the special relationship she had with them and the value it had for us all to be together.
That was why when we went on holiday he insisted we took granny and grandpa (in a wheelchair) with us. The benefit was an all-round one – my small boys learned to help look after poorly grandpa while granny told them stories, read endlessly and played with them and stood up for them when they’d been naughty! We were three generations unified in love and care (and indeed argument) for those precious years when both my father and husband were still alive. It was my husband who insisted on it, even when I was less keen, and I am forever grateful to him for it.
Not everyone is so lucky. A survey just published for National Grandparents’ Day on Sunday reveals that ever fewer children have the benefit of close contact with grandparents. Each new generation brings a further dilution of relations between grandparents and their grandchildren. Nearly a third of respondents admitted they were closer to their own grandparents than their children are to theirs.
The reason is not hard to find. Anti-family policies (no child tax allowances, no marriage allowance are but one aspect) of successive governments over the last thirty years or so have led to declining marriage rates that governments have done nothing to discourage (it is economic as much as cultural). This inevitably has a knock-on effect on grandparent contact. Instead of knowing two sets of grandparents, children may be lucky to know one set. Marriage is the great binder. It gives grandparents, if not rights, a role and a status. Cohabitation not only does this much less clearly, it is more likely to break up than marriage, in turn estranging grandparents.
Yet despite this ‘disincentivisation’ of family bonds, it is still grandparents that parents call on when it comes to childcare. It was extraordinarily heartening to read that 72 per cent of UK grandparents (reported by another survey out this week) provide weekly childcare for their grandchildren, and that 31 per cent say it’s is the highlight of their week. I am not surprised. That’s been my experience too, now I am at the granny end of my family’s tri-generational unity. It’s not just time but money that grandparents spend on their grandchildren – well over £1,000 a year and a contribution that’s entirely unrecognised by the government, let alone being tax deductible. Grandparents are not registered child minders or nursery nurses (nor would they want to be) but this means that parents who turn to their own parents for childminding help shoot themselves in the foot financially. Grandparent care does not count when it comes to getting childcare tax credits. Outsource your children to a creche or daycare where the care may well be indifferent or inappropriate for babies and infants, and the State is keen to cough up; turn to your own family for your child’s care and the State says you have to pay for the privilege.
It speaks volumes about the intrinsic strength of family that, against these odds, so many parents and grandparents don’t think of the cost and do what their instinct tells them, knowing that their help reaps benefits in happiness and intimacy with their grandchildren for them; gives the parents the confidence their children are with someone who especially loves and cares for them, follows their personal development and has their best interests at heart; and for the children, provide the continuity and security of the love and care of the people or person after their mother and father they know best.
Tragically no one in this ‘conservative in name only’ government has the emotional intelligence to recognise this – either the value of the family, that beleaguered bedrock of society, or the value of loving grandparents for children’s sense of self and emotional development let alone to make the case for grandparent’s care contribution being tax deductible.
They won’t even consider it. Like Labour they’d rather outsource children to the mercy of the public sector unions and the State and watch independent families, that they can’t control or indoctrinate, wither and die.