May 29, 2023 at 9:50 AM
Grandparents have become indispensable for families with young children. They jump into the babysitting hole left by the overwrought childcare market. A big advantage for grandpa and grandma is that they build a special bond with their grandchildren. The disadvantage? Skipping a week is not appreciated.
Jenny Schram from Chaam in Brabant drives to Amsterdam every other week, where her two grandchildren live. When she is in rush hour again on Tuesday morning, she sometimes wonders how many fellow sufferers are in the car to also watch out. “I think half the country is moving for the grandchildren,” says the 67-year-old grandmother.
Schram departs at 6.15 am and takes about 1.5 hours to get to the capital. She won’t be home until 8:15 PM at the earliest. The other week the other grandmother from the Veluwe comes to Amsterdam. “Grandparents struggle to bridge distances,” summarizes economics professor Janneke Plantenga.
Dutch families rely heavily on grandparents. The most recent figures from 2017 show that 52 percent of young parents enlist the help of their own parents. In young families with babies, grandparents babysit an average of twelve hours a week. From pre-school age, it is an average of eight hours per week.
‘My son was in distress’
The costs of childcare make grandparents an attractive alternative, says Plantenga. “Especially for middle and high incomes it is quite expensive.” In addition, many Dutch people, including grandparents, work part-time. “This allows them to combine their work with one or two babysitting days.”
But the shortage in childcare also plays an important role. Schram’s grandchildren could only go to the nursery in Amsterdam for two days out of three. “My son was in need. Of course I want to help.”
Especially in recent years there has simply been a shortage of childcare and huge waiting lists have arisen. Even a day exchange is no longer an option. Plantenga: “I can imagine that parents miss the flexibility of childcare. Grandparents can offer that.”
Astrid Vreeburg-de Bondt’s daughter-in-law also experienced this. She went to work 3.5 days after the birth of her daughter. For this she had to purchase four whole days of childcare. She thought that was a waste of money. And so grandma, who was also a maternity woman at the time, was asked to help.
Vreeburg-de Bondt now babysits every week: one week with her eldest two grandchildren, the next week with the two youngest. First, the 67-year-old grandmother traveled to her son’s house, a town away. “Then I was there from eight in the morning until eight in the evening. I also cooked and ate.” She now picks up the children from school and takes them to her own home.
Compulsory babysitting can be tough
For the grandparents, babysitting offers an opportunity to build a special bond with their grandchildren. They do not ‘just visit’, but become part of family life. “Because of that babysitting day, I follow the development of the grandchildren much better,” says Schram. “It’s actually self-interest as well.” Vreeburg-de Bondt: “Grandmas love doing it.”
However, that can also be quite difficult. Vreeburg-de Bondt finds those twelve-hour days quite tough. “It is still fine with one grandchild, but with a second you notice that you are getting a bit older.” For Schram, one day every two weeks is the maximum, given the long travel time.
The mandatory nature of the babysitting day can also be heavy, says Professor Plantenga. Some grandparents feel like they can’t get out of it because everyone seems to be doing it. Vreeburg-de Bondt has to keep a close watch on her agenda, “especially when her son and his wife WhatsApp whether I can come for a few extra days”.
Schram: “You do it all with love. But it’s not that simple and non-binding. I’m really counted on.” Vreeburg-de Bondt is going on holiday in September for the first time since the grandchildren have arrived. She told her children this at the beginning of this year. “They have to solve it themselves during those four weeks.”
What are grandparents going to do when childcare is virtually free?
From 2027, the government wants to make childcare virtually free for everyone. Given the shortage of staff in childcare, Plantenga thinks that this will not immediately lead to parents bringing their children to childcare more often.
Once childcare is cheaper and more accessible, grandparents may find it a bit easier. “Although the opposite happened in Canada when the price of childcare dropped,” says the professor. “There, grandparents – who are a bit younger on average than in the Netherlands – started working more paid hours because they had to babysit less.”