A few weeks ago I wrote about what life was really like being a parent of three children. The article got a great response, both from fellow parents of three comparing and contrasting my experience with their own, as well as those who were intrigued to have an insight. It’s inspired me to launch a new series on Cardiff Mummy Says looking at what life is really like for different kinds of families.
Next up is Sally, a Cardiff grandmother who blogs at Teddy Bears and Cardigans, and who looks after her two-year-old grandson Bear for four days a week so her son and daughter-in-law can work. She talks about what life is like being a grandmother who provides childcare.
Tell us about your family set up
I was born in Hertfordshire but moved to Cardiff when I was 19 and have lived here ever since. I have a grown up son and daughter. I took early retirement from my job as a theatre sister in 2014 and had plans to live the life of ladies that lunch and to travel. A few things stopped that including my fear of flying and the birth of my grandson, Bear. Don’t get me wrong, the birth of Bear was a magical moment and I wouldn’t change a thing.
When my daughter-in-law went back to work we, Grandad and me, agreed to look after Bear. Child care in Cardiff, like many cities, is totally unaffordable compared to wages. We originally were to look after him for three days a week but that didn’t work for Mummy’s job so we have him four days.
What’s your average day like?
I get up at 6.30am. I have been known to sleep in as I am so not a morning person. I have a wash and dress then check my phone for messages. I also catch up with Instagram and add my photo for the day. I drink my fruit tea that Grandad has made… I know, I’m spoilt, he always makes me a cup of tea as fruit tea takes an age to cool and when I was working there wasn’t enough time to drink one before it was time to leave and he gets up at the crack of dawn. I make us both another cup, he drinks coffee and needs at least two to start his day.
Bear arrives about 7.20am and we always have breakfast together. Bear is a bit fussy with food and he enjoys eating mine. We will have boiled eggs, porridge or toast.
Then we go out. Either mundane things like shopping or fun things like soft play or the park. We love discovering new places together and have subscriptions to both National Trust and CADW. That means stately homes, gardens and castles. We love them all.
If it’s warm, we take a picnic and come home after lunch for Bear to nap. He will only sleep in his bed and sometimes in the car. If it’s cold we come home by lunchtime and cook lunch then put Bear to bed.
The afternoon is Bear napping and Grandad snoozing on the sofa. I catch up with social media or my blog.
After Bear’s nap we do crafts, play games or read books. By about 4.30pm Bear has had enough and has something to eat while we either watch TV or something on the iPad. His mummy arrives about 5pm and his daddy about half past.
Recently Bear has started to drop his day time nap, this will be great in the summer as we can stay out all day and venture further but at the moment in the cold, wet winter it means finding things to entertain him longer.
What are the biggest challenges of being grandparents who provide childcare?
Remembering that Bear is not my child. This may seem strange to others but I have to remind myself that I am not his mother, things are different now and I have so much to learn. What was right for my children is not necessarily right for my grandchild.
We brought up our children away from family so all our decisions were by trial and error and doing what our parents did. This may have been okay for us but now there is the internet and so many rules. What they can eat, what they must avoid, how long they sleep, what they wear in the car seat, facing backwards, no bumpers in the cot. Lay them on their backs not fronts….makes my head spin and all I can do is my best.
Being older and not having other grandparents to share him with is difficult. Babies and children are designed for young people. That’s why nature stops us having them when we get older. He keeps me active but it is definitely harder at this age. I love having him all to myself but if his grandparents lived nearer and could share his care I would love it too, and so would he. I don’t mean every week, I love having him each week but so we could take time off without Bear’s Mummy and Daddy having to take annual leave.
What are the best/most rewarding parts?
Everything! His face when he sees me or is sleeping. His cuddles. Being such a huge part of his life.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about parents in your situation?
That it’s a duty or a chore. It’s neither, it’s a privilege and every day I am grateful that I am given the chance to be part of Bear’s life. That is until he refuses to sleep, or get in the car or get dressed…
What would you most like people to know about your situation?
It is hard work. Physically and emotionally. That you have to give 100% or don’t do it. There are many advantages given in the media for children to spend time with grandparents, but we have given that up by being there so often. We can’t break the rules and fill him with chocolate, or not get him dressed. We can’t be naughty and let him do things his parents wouldn’t because we are with him so much that would cause all sorts of problems! It is also the best thing ever – and, because he goes home with his parents, I don’t have a disturbed night’s sleep.
Is there anyone or anything that helps make your life easier?
My daughter-in-law. First and last. Grandad and I would not have done this or carried on if we didn’t have a great relationship with her. She trusts us with the most precious thing she has and occasionally we cock up. We do something wrong or forget to do something and it’s okay.
What advice would you give other grandparents in the same situation, or thinking about it?
Don’t agree to look after your grandchildren unless you can give it your all. That includes doing it their way not yours. It is harder than you think too. If it is your first grandchild (like Bear) cast your mind back to your first child, yep just like that. Fumbling in the dark trying to do your best.
If it is your son’s child then only agree if you have a good relationship with your daughter-in-law. Sons are different; if their child is happy and their wife is happy they are. How do I know this? There is a webpage called
Groansnet, Gransnet and most of the bad stuff is mother-in-laws complaining about DILs, not about their sons or daughters.
It is expensive looking after babies and children, ensure you have decided who pays for what before you start. Don’t wait and then begrudge what you are buying. We were happy to buy what was needed to look after Bear. A car seat, a buggy, a cot. In fact I loved looking for and buying them but not everyone can or wants to do that. Then there are the essentials – nappies, food, toys, medicines, creams. I only have to ask and it’s there; we do not buy nappies and we didn’t buy formula or bottles.
Catch up with the rest of the What’s it really like…? series here.