Research by North West charity Ready Generations, working with the University of Sterling and not-for-profit care village operator Belong, has highlighted the importance of rekindling relationships between grandparents and grandchildren as the nation emerges from lockdown.
The research, presented in the Care to the Nest report, launched this week as part of national Intergenerational Week, involved surveying grandparents at Belong villages about what they enjoyed about their grandparenting role, as well as what they found more difficult, and how this might have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of those questioned, 98% reported that they had spent considerably less time with their grandchildren over the course of the pandemic, while 72% said that their enjoyment of time spent with grandchildren was of great importance to them, and 73% felt they played an important role in teaching life skills to their grandchildren which was more difficult when not physically together. Many said that while technology such as video messaging apps has been important in retaining contact, it has not been a substitute for face-to-face interactions.
Pre-covid, spending time outdoors was ranked amongst activities grandparents most enjoyed sharing with their grandchildren, closely followed by teaching life skills, such as baking. The findings are supported by numerous studies that have shown the positive effect of grandparental relationships on the well-being and development of children.
The grandparents’ roles in the lives of grandchildren and its potential to impact positively on well-being was also explored as part of the research.
The majority of grandparents identified with a range of support responsibilities. Nearly three quarters identified strongly with companionship accountabilities (including being a friend, story-teller and entertainer). Grandparents most identified with being a listener. Well over half saw themselves as providing instructional support (defined as being a mentor, disciplinarian and emotional nurturer), with 75% reporting taking on the roles of problem solver and ‘wise elder’. Over half said that they gave practical support, such as financial assistance, transport and health advice.
A key finding was that grandparents identified with different accountabilities dependent on the age of their grandchildren. The more grandchildren within the younger (4-10 years old) age group category that grandparents had, the more likely they were to identify with the companion and instructional support roles. The more grandchildren within the 11-18 age group, the more they identified with the practical supporter accountabilities, indicating the changing nature of the grandparenting role as children grow and transition through infancy and childhood into young adulthood.
The invaluable role of grandparents in providing childcare was also highlighted by the research. Over a third of those surveyed provided at least one form of childcare on a regular basis pre-pandemic. This reduced considerably over the course of the pandemic despite the government’s allowance for childcare bubbles.
Commenting on research findings, Sue Egersdorff, founder of Ready Generations, said: “The data presents a rich picture of the role grandparents play in modern family life and the unique nature of their relationship with grandchildren. It highlights the urgency of rekindling intergenerational connections as we emerge from the pandemic as they matter so much to both grandparents and their grandchildren.”
On the implications for care providers, Belong deputy chief executive Tracy Paine added: “The research supports what we’ve long known about the mutual benefits of intergenerational connections for both older and younger people and emphasises the need for new models of care that facilitate these interactions. Belong is committed to bringing together people of all ages to enjoy meaningful activities and relationships, and we are excited to be working closely with Ready Generations as we prepare to launch our first intergenerational care village, incorporating a nursery, next year.”
Belong, Ready Generations and the University of Stirling are hosting a free webinar on 25 March to explore the study’s findings. Anyone who is interested in grandparenting can find details of how to register here: https://bit.ly/3c1KMFK
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