Intergenerational Child Care

Our world is changing so much; it is faster, smaller – in terms of communication and transport, more diverse, yet everywhere is beginning to appear the same. People wear the same kinds of clothes; they more or less speak the same language-‘americano-australiano-englishee’. They listen to similar music and dance in the same style. They get angry about the same things and express themselves in quite similar protests, marches and fights. The outcome of these skirmishes is dictated by the kind of government each country or area has. For those of us who live in democracies, we have a general right to protest, provided we do not cause harm or threat to others. For those who live in a dictatorship or other self-absorbed power, the consequences are less clear but more frightening. Despite this very simplistic, flippant introduction, life still revolves around family.

Change happens across generations

Our personal lives have changed beyond recognition over the last six or so generations. In that relatively short span of time, we have had two World Wars, a handful of potentially global threats to world peace and numerous outbreaks of unrest, civil wars and rebellions. Women are emancipated and in most aspects of life and work are equal to their male colleagues, if not in salary, then in responsibility and accountability. There are some amongst us who would challenge the validity of that last statement.

We have acquired different vocabularies which separate one generation from another. We live longer but are less likely to if we do not take heed of our fast food diet and couch potato computer-obsessive lifestyle. We have access to a kaleidoscope of information and news events. We can experience through a television camera lens what it is like to be in the middle of a war zone without actually being shot and killed. We face the threat of death from terrorists by just going to work on the train, tube or bus. We understand that whilst people are not born equal, most of us work towards ensuring that there is inclusion and less discrimination, provided it doesn’t affect us and our own family’s opportunities.

We can now, apparently, make choices to carry on working after our children are born to pursue our own careers and maintain the lifestyles we had before we produced our children. We pay an astonishing amount of money for the best child care that we can afford even though we know that sometimes the standard of care is not what is should be and if we place our very young children in full time child care there is every likelihood that they will become more aggressive and violent as they get older. We still do not use the alternatives to group day care, such as childminders, qualified daily nannies and grandparents as much as we could.

Unpaid child-minding? No thanks

We have reached that stage, especially in the western world, where we rely on others outside of the family to do more to help raise our children. I wonder what has happened to grandparents in all of this. I accept that most people work for longer and that includes the older generation, those who would be the grandparents. I also understand that fewer families live and work and die in the area where they were born. As I approach this time in my own life, I am very aware that whilst I would resist being the regular unpaid babysitter and child minder, I do, however, have the skills, knowledge, experience and the confidence to be able to look after a small child or two.

I am not for one moment saying that all grandparents should give up their own careers or lives to look after their grandchildren; it just wouldn’t be acceptable any more. What I am suggesting is a way to make use of people who may not want to continue working in offices, factories, shops and restaurants but who do still want to work. There is no one who can pretend that looking after children is anything but a highly demanding and sometimes exhausting job. I do feel despite this, that we have an untapped source of rich one-to one child care potential. What could be more reassuring for young parents living far from family to know that their precious child is being cared for by a mature, well-trained, responsible adult?

Older people can still work

I know that there are many older people who would love to be involved in a different kind of work and still be appreciated and paid at the end of the week. Being retired is no reflection of a person’s ability to do a job. It is usually more the action of an employer to gain younger, cheaper employees who need the money and are willing to work faster and for longer hours. Retirement is the end of another phase in life, not the end of life.

There are numerous older people whose sons or daughters made decisions not to produce their own families. They would be more than willing to be trained to look after children. The most successful nannies are those from the older age bracket. They have had the time to produce their own families if that was their choice. They have done the travelling and exploring and have reached the stage where a more settled existence appeals. In families where there are few if any positive male role models, a ‘grandfather’ would be such an asset.

I think it is often men rather than women who feel the pinch of retirement, not necessarily in their pockets, but in their self-esteem. Women have been traditional home makers and as such can establish a routine which keeps them going. This may involve some housework, some shopping, meeting friends and joining groups and clubs. Men sometimes struggle to bridge the gap between going out to work and being the main breadwinner to having nothing much to do and lots of time to do it.

Childhood should not be lived at break-neck speed. It should be a leisurely reflective time filled with adventures such as a walk in the park or standing on a bridge watching the water flow underneath. If childhood  becomes a constant battle to get from A to B and possibly C before the shops close, how do we then expect our children, the successive generations to appreciate and savour these few years before we have to be at everyone else’s beck and call? Is it really necessary for children to be pushed and coached from their day they are born to be super-human? Isn’t it enough that they are born and they do develop and they will learn despite our interference?

Why we need to ease off the accelerator

 Older people move at a slightly slower pace; however, their thought processes are still sharp as are their reactions. I am sitting writing this in a summer house office with the doors wide open, listening to the gentle snores of my dog and the wonderful song of a chaffinch. I chose to make this time for me, but I would love to share this with a child.

This is how real learning happens. Gerald Durrell would not have written his magnificently observant books if he had been pushed into school instead of being able to fully appreciate his surroundings. Einstein would not have become one of the world’s most gifted scientists if he had not had time to watch what happened to the world through his child-eyes. When he was about five years old, he saw a magnetic compass needle turn to point north and realised that there were more things hidden for him to discover. The fascination and wonder of natural events remained with him and although he performed poorly at school he didn’t allow that to prevent him from becoming a renowned scientist and theorist of his own and future generations.

I mentioned in a previous article a little girl, Olivia, who comes to visit occasionally and who is looked after on those occasions by my daughter. There are many times when she prefers to be with me, not because I am a much nicer person, or care more about her, but because I am more willing to take time, to move at her pace, to wander in the garden looking for ladybirds – which will cause a shiver when found. I don’t want to rush about. I want to do things slowly because I understand that is how she needs her life to be when she comes to visit.

Looking after children is not everyone’s idea of work for a retired person, but if there are enough older citizens who are interested, we could find a wonderful way to offer an alternative quality child care solution to parents and children by combining intergenerational forces.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.