Care for young and old under one roof – it’s what families do

March, 2013

Work or family ? Stay at home with the kids and take the financial hit? Or skivvy in the office to pay for childcare? It’s an age-old dilemma faced by a great many mothers – but now, increasingly (crazily) by grandmothers, too.

Almost two thirds of grandparents – seven million – help out with child care, with one in five providing 10 hours a week, according to new figures from Grandparents Plus.

But as the pension age rises, so will the numbers needing to stay on in full- time work: cue a child-care crisis and a cancellation of that Saga cruise.

Take my friend’s divorced mother, a fit 67-year-old, who, thanks to savings and income from investments, retired five years ago.

Her long-deferred plan was to undertake a gardening course, travel modestly in Europe by budget airline and watch her grandchildren grow up. Ideally, from a cruising altitude of 32,000 ft.

Her actual role is rather more grounded. She has morphed into an unpaid nanny, doing the school run for one daughter’s two children three days a week and caring for her other daughter’s baby on one and sometimes both of the other days.

If her son ever decides to start a family, she may be torn apart by competing interests. But for now, it is her adult daughters who rely on her to a tremendous degree.

Such a degree, in fact, that even though bank interest rates remain worryingly low and she has toyed with the notion of resuming part-time work to provide an extra cushion, there’s no point: she would need to subsidise the cost of nursery for her grandchildren.

This energetic older woman – elderly seems entirely the wrong word – has taken on her second round of child-rearing with admirable good grace. She says she loves being involved – needed – and there’s no reason to disbelieve her.But not every grandparent is in the same position; some are too infirm, too indigent or just too darn busy to bring up babies in their twilight years. It doesn’t stop their grown-up offspring from asking, however. Because that’s what families do.

My parents died many years ago and my in-laws live in Scotland, so for me the issue hasn’t arisen. But friends, with reasonably well-paid jobs but unreasonably high mortgages, find themselves utterly reliant on Grandma to bale them out when it comes to child care – even though Grandpa has to drive her two hours to reach them and stay overnight.

In an ideal world, child care would be flexible, convenient and affordable. But in real life, it is up to us to manage our own affairs, and we need to confront a future of compromise.

My generation took it for granted that we would fly the nest in our late teens and early twenties and find a perch on the property ladder, never to return.

Nowadays, with house prices out of reach and graduate jobs in short supply, youngsters routinely, reluctantly boomerang back in their droves; 28 per cent of 20 to 34 year-olds (3.2 million) still live at home.

Meanwhile, those of my peers who aren’t relying on their ageing parents for child care are moving to the Sandwich Generation stage of caring for them. So it is they who must jump in the car and tear up the motorway at a moment’s notice, stressed out and strung up.

The screamingly obvious – if not entirely palatable – solution is to prepare for life under one roof. And that demands a major change in mindset; in the business world, it’s called legacy planning.

Admittedly, it might need to be quite a large roof to stop everyone killing each other, with possibly a garden shed by way of an emergency annexe, but pooling space, costs and care makes sense.

We can’t expect the state to take sole care of our parents any more than we would want it to take sole care of our kids. The truth is we have to look after our own. It’s what families do.


It’s funny how things turn out, isn’t it? The childhood sweetheart of Pope Francis, Amalia Damonte, has revealed that after she spurned his tender proposal of marriage aged 12, he vowed to join the priesthood.

Thereafter he devoted himself to God and has risen to the highest position in the Catholic Church, with her blessing.

By way of contrast, at the same age, my husband, who went to a gusty Yorkshire boarding school run by monks, quite fancied emulating St Simeon Stylites, an ascetic fifth-century Syrian hermit who lived on a 15-metre high pillar for 68 years.

When that didn’t work out (due to high winds), he devoted himself to me. I like to think that he is, if not content, then, like our new Pope, obediently resigned to his vocation.

He seems happy enough, but being married, we hardly ever talk. Or is that his inner hermit? I’m also struggling to explain the tower of bricks he’s building in the garden.


Pippa, Pippa, this has to stop. We love you but we may be starting to hate you a bit, too. (No, I said, hate, not Kate.)

Do you hear? Of course you can’t hear, because that canary yellow coat is loud enough to put the wind up a seasoned police horse never mind Wayward Prince in the Gold Cup .

Your outing this week to the Cheltenham Festival was accessorised with a Cossack fur hat, an eligible banker plus a press release about your outfit. And that’s just not classy.

Admittedly, it was the hyperventilating designer of the coat who alerted the media to the fact that you would be trotting around the winner’s enclosure in a garment that can be seen from outer space.

But really, as it was a weekday, couldn’t you at least have spent it pretending to writing your fabulous new “if guests feel tired, serve them a bed of rice” casual dining column for Waitrose magazine?

We might have forgiven you your Partying for Simpletons book, but our dearly beloved Delia was toppled off her pedestal, taken out to the paddock, shot, her meat mechanically recovered and then fed to school children in pies so you could have that column, Pippa.

Yes, you are young and slim and leggy and by all accounts every bit as nice as your sister. But, you are also becoming a teeny bit too ubiquitous for our taste and your own good.

Of course, every time the Duchess of Cambridge is holed up, nursing swollen ankles, the paparazzi will have nobody else to photograph. But really, it’s not your job to help them out by wearing the tacky couture equivalent of a high-vis jacket.


Maybe I’ve missed something – like a wormhole into a parallel universe – but when did honey start being flogged in factors?

I get the whole SPF sunscreen thing, although regrettably only two decades after a mis-spent baby-oiled youth.

But figuring out whether a dollop of manuka active 15-plus will protect my slice of breakfast granary significantly more than a Rowse 10-plus is beyond me.

The factors apparently represent levels of anti-bacterial activity that are health-giving and healing. Wasted on toast then; I’ll keep it for my summer hols.

Mind you, when you think about it, honey doesn’t actually need a factor to protect from UV light or anything else; once you’ve smeared it all over, the ensuing thick patina of sand will do the trick nicely.


My first reaction when I saw those peachy, be-knickered M&S derrières all over the papers was – identity theft!

I mean, how the hell did they get hold of my photos? My second reaction was “Aah, such lovely bottoms”.

On turning to share my third reaction with a male colleague (“Aah, such lovely pants, too”) I found that he’d scarpered in embarrassment.

While he couldn’t help admiring the, um, superb craftsmanship, he was a bit mortified to be confronted by quite so much pert rumpage at the office (which is why I’m contractually obliged to wear a chador during working hours).

We ladies could gaze at that lifting, separating and scalloped lace all day.

But it’s a bit much to expect British chaps to keep a stiff upper lip while fighting the rear-guard action of their dreams.

Sourced from:  The Telegraph,  

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