Average life expectancy is now 78.7 years for an Irish man and 83.2 years for an Irish woman. This means that since 1950 the average Irish person has gained 15 more years of life to be enjoyed. With retirement age at 66, what are our healthier and more active seniors filling their golden years with? Free work or, more particularly, providing free childcare. A recent report from TILDA (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Aging) revealed that 60% of Irish grandparents have looked after their grandchildren in the past month. Of these, 15% had clocked up more than 60 hours of childcare.

We now have a generation of grandparents who are spending more time minding their grandchildren and this is a trend that is set to continue to grow. The reason for this is simple, Ireland holds the unenviable title of being one of the top 2 of the most expensive countries in the world for childcare, as identified by OECD. This new reality has even inspired new sections in childcare books on how to navigate the complex relationship of parents instructing their own parents on how to care for their child. It’s always harder to be rigorous in you demands of your staff when you are not paying them. 

There are obviously some very serious issues to be considered around this topic area. The TILDA report showed a correlation between grandparents providing 60+ hours of care and depressive symptoms. Where cost of childcare and earning power don’t match up, economic need is driving this reliance on the older generation as a support service and putting some of them under severe strain. As an ad person, I am not best placed to suggest solutions on how or what we focus on for shaping progressive and equitable societal change. My input would end with ‘Let’s try do what Sweden does but is there any way to maybe avoid the very high level of income tax?’ So in the absence of relevant knowledge to discuss the serious issues surrounding this theme, I want to talk about the positives – the closer bond grandparents are now enjoying with their grandchildren.

In my own family and amongst my peers there has definitely been a shift in how grandparents and grandchildren relate to one another. It is a relationship that seems to be more fun-filled and closer than the role I remember from my youth. With this in mind, and because us woman live those extra 4.5 years longer to build an intergenerational bond, I started to compare and contrast the typical Granny us generation Xers experienced versus the one the Millennials and Zers now know.

Granny Old School vs Granny Nanny

In our research, the Inbeweeners told us they were trying to foster more open relationships with their children than they had experienced growing up. It seems that many grandparents are also embracing this spirit of more open communication, and this is reshaping how they relate to their grandchildren - moving away from a traditional authority figure role to one of friendship. The different generations are now learning from one another and influencing each other, and this was evident in the marriage equality referendum. In the run-up to the vote, Trinity students came up with the idea of #RingYourGranny. They filmed students calling up family members to discuss the how they intended to vote. The final video is a moving piece showing the power of personal relationships to influence attitudes and prompt social change.

I know in my family the grandparents play a huge role. They are there for any support needed when things fall through the gaps with two working parents, but more importantly they are friends, playmates and co-conspirators for our children and the love is plain to see in both directions. All hail Granny and Grampy Nanny.

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