Research: Despite the expansion of the nursery, grandparents remain very important when it comes to caring for their grandchildren

In emergencies, at certain times or to fill a gap: In many families, grandparents have long looked after their grandchildren. New research now asks: Has professional childcare replaced grandma and grandpa?

The grandparents are still busy. Photo: Shutterstock

Fun and games with grandchildren, doing homework or eating ice cream – time spent with grandma and grandpa is an integral part of everyday life of many young families. In Germany, grandparents remain an important permanent element of childcare. This is shown in the recently published study “Grandma and Grandpa Asked?” Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) and German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). The results show how grandparents support caring for grandchildren – and how helping grandma and grandpa can affect grandchildren and parents.

The two-year research project used data obtained from various studies of families and children between 1997 and 2020, explains the director of BiB C. Katharina Spieß in an interview with dpa. The education and family economist managed the project, which was funded by the Ravensburger Verlag Foundation. The data was re-examined with regard to the role of grandparents in education and care for children aged zero to ten. Depending on the question, the representative findings are based on data from thousands of families and children.

Result: Grandmother and grandfather play an important role in childcare and are an important part of the life of young families – and this hardly changed with the expansion of nurseries in Germany. Although nine out of ten preschool children in Germany attend kindergarten, grandparents look after every second child under the age of six as needed or on a regular basis. In a normal week, 20 to 40 percent of girls and boys under the age of 10 are regularly caring for their grandparents. Their commitment to caring has remained more or less the same over the past 20 years.

“If there are constant problems with care, the quality of the partnership suffers as well.”

Director of BiB and Head of Studies, Spieß, says: “20 years ago, caring for grandparents generally played a much greater role.” With the expansion of day care, a more colorful “patchwork of care” has been created that brings together day care and grandparents in addition to parental care. The results now show that kindergarten has grown in importance, but grandparents have not been pushed aside – quite the contrary.

According to the well-known educator Wassilios Fthenakis, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren has changed significantly recently. The relationship is no longer just about grandparents explaining the world to their grandchildren and showing them things. In the course of digitization, young children now also teach their grandparents – for example, to use cell phones or computers. “Children are activated and involved in the learning processes between generations,” says dpa. Nevertheless, the importance of grandparents to children remains the same.

Spieß also draws attention to an aspect which, in her opinion, is often neglected: the number of children with a migrant background is increasing – and in many cases grandparents are not coming to Germany. “We can see very clearly that many of these families no longer have the resources to look after their grandparents.”

The research project also proves what many seemed to imagine: if grandmother and grandfather help, they first and foremost support mothers, who are still mostly primary caregivers. Mothers are then much more satisfied with their childcare situation and their own free time. This, in turn, has a positive effect on children, explains study leader Spieß: “The increase in mother’s satisfaction is directly related to the child’s development.”

Fthenakis, who is the Honorary President of the Didacta Association, points out that the support of grandparents can also have a positive effect on the quality of the relationship between parents. “If care problems persist, the quality of the partnership will also suffer. On the other hand, the stability of the partnership is an important factor in the child’s development. »

“Perhaps in a relationship with a grandson you experience the highest quality relationship on earth”

Grandparents can also derive enormous health and emotional benefits from living relationships with their grandchildren, as highlighted in several international studies in recent years. There seems to be some truth in the saying “grandchildren stay young”. Fthenakis sees it similarly: “Perhaps you experience the best quality relationship in the world in your relationship with your grandson.” Grandparents invested time, emotions and money without expecting anything in return – a very special kind of bond. “Grandchildren give their grandparents meaning for the rest of their lives and, more importantly, a time dimension that goes beyond their deaths. You stay alive in their memories. “

Nevertheless: Spieß’s syndrome also comes to the conclusion that the very frequent daily change of caregivers does not always run smoothly for all children. Spieß emphasizes, however, that this is not due to poor care for grandparents. “We suspect this is more because some children find it difficult to adapt to the large number of caregivers in a day.” As an appeal, it can be concluded that nurseries and schools should offer stable care with as few changes as possible among specialists. Josefine Kaukemüller, dpa

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