22/02/2012 20:38 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Granny Nannies

If it weren't for my mother, I wouldn't be writing this. Not for the obvious reason that she gave birth to me, but because she is downstairs looking after my children. She has looked after my four sons for one day a week ever since the first one was born six years ago.

The free childcare she has offered me ever since I became a mother is what has allowed me to keep my career going, even in the early days when I was earning peanuts as an aspiring freelance writer. If I'd had to pay for a nanny or nursery I simply couldn't have afforded to work on the tiny salary I earned in those early days.

My mother is far from unique though; she is one of the one in four grandparents who regularly care for their grandchildren, saving their parents an estimated £3.6bn in childcare costs. While most parents who rely on their own parents for childcare say the fact that it is free as the best thing about it, there are other benefits to be had from using a granny, or indeed grandpa, nanny.

I started working again when my son was only a few months old and as a nervous first time mother I couldn't bear the idea of leaving him with strangers. But with my mother I knew he would be cared for by someone who loved him as much as I did.

This sentiment is echoed by Catherine, who often leaves her two children, Toby, 8, and Livi, 6, with her parents when she goes away with her husband. "We know the children are with people we and they trust and who love them almost as much as we do," she explains.

It's not just about peace of mind for the parents though, being looked after by grandparents is a real treat for their grandchildren too. When I sent my son to nursery, I would have to peel him off me to get him into his classroom. In contrast, when grandma turned up for her day with him he was wreathed in smiles and couldn't wait to shake me off.

But it's not all plain sailing with granny day care. If your parents regularly care for your child the line between being an indulgent grandparent and an authority figure who is a big part of their upbringing can become blurred. My mum would buy my sons toys and sweets every time she came. In the end I had to ask her to stop, pointing out that she was spoiling them as if she was an occasional visitor, rather than someone who looked after them every week.

"There's no denying that parents and grandparents can have different ideas about bringing up children, or argue about things like discipline or sweets. If grandparents are going to be caring for your children, it's a good idea to get all these issues out into the open and talk about what's important," advises Julia Shipston of BeGrandnet, a website specifically for grandparents.

In my experience there are ups and downs to having grandparents care for your children. To help you decide if it is right for you here is a list of pros and cons:


• It's usually free.
• Your children are cared for by someone who loves them.
• Grandparents can teach your children a lot. When surveyed adults to find out what they had learned from their grandparents, more than half said that they had taught them respect and manners, and almost as many said they had also shown them the difference between right and wrong.
• Parents can often offer more flexible childcare, providing anything from an hour while you're shopping to a whole weekend so you can go away.
• Being looked after by grandparents is often more of a treat for children than traditional childcare.


• Grandparents can have a different outlook on life, discipline and how your children should be brought up. This can cause arguments.
• Your parents may feel it is OK for them to step in when you are disciplining children and this can make you feel undermined.
• Grandparents can be over-indulgent with children, which can be a problem if they look after them regularly.
• Family may not be as reliable as paid-for childcare and, if you are using a granny nanny to enable you to work, this can cause problems.
• If your parents are old they may find it harder to keep up with young children and find caring for them very tiring.

Share your experiences here. Does your mother or father look after your children? Or are you a granny (or grandpa) who takes regular care of your grandchildren?