Grandmother reads: About 60 percent of all grandmothers and 40 percent of all grandfathers jump in to look after their grandchildren in an emergency
Photo: Ingo Heine
Everyday life without grandma and grandpa is unthinkable in many families.
However, their commitment to childcare has remained roughly the same over the past 20 years - although the professional childcare offerings in day care centers and schools have been significantly expanded.
This is the result of a study by family and educational researchers at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin) and the Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB Wiesbaden and Berlin).
The smaller the children are, the more the grandparents help the parents:
About 30 percent of children under the age of 3 are regularly cared for by grandma and grandpa.
For children between the ages of three and six and for primary school children, the figure is around 20 percent.
On average, grandparents regularly look after eight hours a week.
In addition, grandparents are in demand as saviors in times of need:
Around 60 percent of all grandmothers and 40 percent of all grandfathers step in to look after their grandchildren in an emergency.
Parents, on the other hand, who have to get by without support, for example because the grandparents live too far away or are still working themselves, would like to see grandma and grandpa more involved.
"Grandparent care has remained largely constant in recent years, despite the expansion of the daycare center," says Professor C. Katharina Spieß, who has been researching with her team on the "Ask Grandma and Grandpa?" project since June 2020.
To do this, the research team evaluated representative data sets from 1997 to 2020, which the scientists used to shed light on the role of grandparents in Germany in the education and care of children in the 0 to 10 age group.
The study was financed by the Ravensburger Verlag Foundation.
More grandparent support desired - but not possible
So professional childcare has not pushed grandma and grandpa out of the picture; on the contrary, grandparent care is increasingly becoming part of a combination of childcare with daycare or all-day school.
This applies in particular to children in East Germany.
The trend can be seen at different levels, regardless of the educational background of the family, throughout Germany. The research group found that looking after grandparents was only of less importance in families with a history of migration.
One of the focal points of the report was the question of what consequences the care mix of day care center or school and after-school club, parents and grandparents has on the well-being of children and parents.
In the parent generation, the effect is clearly positive: if grandparents support, parents are significantly more satisfied with their child care and with their own free time.
The effect on the children is not so clear: the well-being of the grandchildren cared for by the grandparents hardly changes, the authors write.
On average, there was no measurable effect on socio-emotional development or school performance.
However, there were isolated effects for certain groups:
Children of kindergarten age who are looked after all day in a day-care center and also by their grandparents are said to be more socio-emotionally unstable.
Children of primary school age who are cared for by their grandparents are more likely to have health problems, according to their parents.
The researchers conclude that changing caregivers several times a day is not unproblematic for all children.
And appeal that day care centers or schools should offer stable care with as few changes as possible among specialists.
»Satisfied mothers have more socio-emotionally stable children«
However, mothers in particular should not have a bad conscience about involving grandparents with regard to the well-being of their children, according to the data from the research group: "The increase in maternal satisfaction has a direct connection with child development," says researcher Spieß.
»To put it bluntly: satisfied mothers have more socio-emotionally stable children.«
In view of the increasing gainful employment of women up to retirement age, however, it can be assumed that grandma and grandpa will no longer be able to be there for their grandchildren as much in the future: between 50 and 60 percent of parents who would like the grandparents to be more involved give up their jobs as a reason why it doesn't work.
According to the research team, this number is likely to increase over time.