Grandparents drop family anchor role

Advertisers love labels. We now have five types of grandparents
– adventure seekers, racy role models, hearts of gold,
traditionalists and quiet reminiscers. What all but one category is
telling us is that the traditional role of the grandparent as the
anchor of the extended family, offering child care, food and
shelter, is in danger of extinction.

According to the Future Foundation think-tank, more than 13 million
people are grandparents (one in five); the average age of the first
time grandparent is under 50; the average number of grandchildren
is four – and only the hearts of gold group (estimated at 750,000)
spend a great deal of time with the grandchildren, often in the
form of providing unpaid child care.

The adventure seekers (female and feisty) and racy role models
(mostly male) are involved in a range of activities – “drinking,
flirting and dancing” or travelling and taking care of their looks.
Quiet reminiscers do little while the traditionalists also have a
reduced range of activities and are not much involved in their

Attitude, financed by surplus cash, plays a part in these
divisions. The image of grans and grandads jet skiing in the
Bahamas has its uses – not least because it tells us fun isn’t
extinguished by the first grey hair. It also acts as a counter to

Yet, however glamorous the image, it is important that
policy-makers don’t ignore the dire financial circumstances of many
older people who are struggling to rear their grandchildren.

A recent study by Labour MP Frank Field revealed that at least
130,000 “pensioner parents”, are effectively fostering their
grandchildren because their own parents are absent, addicted or
incapable of offering support.

Field wants the government to conduct a national survey to assess
the number of grandparents rearing a family for the second time. In
a survey of 800 grandparents in his constituency in the Wirral, he
discovered that the average weekly increase in income for caring
for a child was only £30 – not much leeway there for scuba
diving lessons.

Keeping a child in the family; strengthening the ties that count
shouldn’t just be rewarded with the accolade of having, “a heart of
gold”. Adequate funding and appropriate support plus some public
acknowledgement might even tempt some of the racy role models into
offering grandchildren places to call their own – at least now and

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