Americans rely on grandmothers to fill the childcare gap

It was a dream come true when Misa Chen entered a leadership program at Harvard Business School after a lifelong struggle with dyslexia.

But his youngest son is only one, and his daughter is only 4. Leaving them for more than a week to attend sessions in person didn’t feel feasible, Chen, CEO and co-founder of the LA-based Autopilot ReviewsSPEAKING luck. Until his father-in-law came in.

Since the birth of her grandchildren, Ana Léniz Mezzano—”Ani” in her family—has taken months from her life in Santiago, Chile, to be with her son and daughter-in-law, and their two children. . “I love being a grandmother,” Mezzano said. “It’s very rewarding.”

Mezzano, who still works as a nurse, spent three months with Chen when her eldest daughter was born. And when his grandson was born, he came again to stay with the family and help. “I have a great bond with them,” Mezzano said of his grandchildren, but added that it was a challenge not to live closer.

“After giving birth – I had a difficult C-section – with [Ani] here is very valuable because she is a comfort to my older daughter, and I can trust her with a newborn,” said Chen.

Image courtesy of Misa Chen/Nathalie Cheng

These days when Mezzano visits, Chen says he’s packing in speaking engagements, work travel, and classes at Harvard. “I optimize the time he’s here because it’s a comfort to the kids that he’s here,” he said.

“My mother-in-law is one of the reasons I have a career,” Chen added, noting that Mezzano’s nursing support allowed her to headline conferences and attend classes. . “It’s the biggest game changer.”

Mezzano’s trips from Chile to LA to take care of her grandchildren may seem unusual, but grandparents—especially grandmothers—often fill the gap of caring for their families.

In fact, 42% of working parents rely on grandmothers for childcare, according to a new survey for International Women’s Day conducted by The Harris Poll among more than 2,000 adults in US.

And when child care issues arise—such as school or daycare closings or when children are sick at home—four in 10 parents with children under 18 rely on unpaid help. nor grandmother, the survey found. In many cases, grandmothers often provide this care at the expense of their own time and financial security.

But with many Americans struggling to find affordable child care, grandmothers serve as a critical support to their families and the broader economy. Without this often unpaid—or underpaid—help, many working parents are forced to make difficult choices about stepping back from their professional lives to care for their children.

A majority, 92%, of Americans believe that grandmothers make an important contribution to the economy through the child care they provide. In addition, about 83% said that without this care the American economy would suffer.

Without grandma’s help, more working parents will feel the shock

Colorado-based Kiki McGough says she always looks forward to the day she becomes a grandmother. With her background as an early childhood special education teacher, McGough felt she could help her daughter and son-in-law navigate the child care system.

But when her grandson’s childcare suddenly failed when he was eight months old, McGough, his daughter, and son-in-law were left scrambling to cobble together coverage. “We stick to a schedule,” McGough says, but admits that much of the burden falls on him, even though he still works on his own.

Not only does she babysit her grandson before and after daycare three days a week, she also babysits him two days a week in the afternoon when daycare is not available. But with his son-in-law traveling for work and his daughter, a teacher, on a strict schedule, this is the only way the two can continue to work.

Still, the juggle can be challenging—especially for grandparents. McGough wakes up at 6 a.m. to pick up her grandson and take her to daycare because her daughter and son-in-law have to be at work before the center opens. Usually McGough handles the pick-ups, too.

“I would call in sick to work to watch my grandchild because my job was more flexible than teaching my daughter,” McGough said. “All of this is at no cost to my daughter because the cost for an infant program is matched with college tuition in Colorado.”

With rising costs and long waitlists, it’s common for grandmothers to often provide childcare so parents can work. About 4 in 5 working parents who rely on grandmothers for childcare say the support allows them to pursue their career goals, according to the Harris survey. About 67% of working parents say that there are times when they would lose their job without the help of their child’s grandmother who helped care for them.

Without the unpaid childcare provided by grandmothers, 72% of working Americans say their ability to work would be affected. A full 20% of working parents who rely on unpaid childcare report they would have to quit their job without this support.

But it is not without challenges. McGough says she’s lucky because she’s financially secure enough to help out. “It’s not like I’m going to make them pay for mileage for driving my grandson to school or dropping him off on Friday afternoons. I’m probably better off than other grandparents. But even so, it is a financial burden.

These are not just financial challenges. Yvonne Franklin, who helped take care of her grandchildren and currently helps raise her great niece, says that many times child care comes at the expense of her own time.

“I have things planned, and something happens with my grandchildren or my nephew, and I have to change my plans to accommodate them—unfortunately, my plans have to take a back seat.”

Fixing the child care crisis has ramifications

Since the start of the pandemic, many advocates, politicians, and parents have pointed out that the child care crisis is an economic problem, as well as a personal challenge facing many American families.

Without strong, high-quality childcare, parents are unable to maximize their work productivity. Children are not getting the foundation they need to succeed. And, perhaps less talked about, grandparents and other family members are risking their financial, physical, and mental health to bridge the gap.

Overall, the lack of adequate childcare for infants and young children across the country is now estimated worth US $122 billion annually of lost income, productivity, and income.

Even if parents have money to spend on childcare, finding a provider is a challenge. Seven out of 10 child care centers there aren’t many open slots they wantaccording to a November report from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).

Overall, about 12.3 million children in the US have working parents, but there are about 8.7 million licensed childcare slots available, according to a a recent report by Child Care Aware of America. This leaves a potential gap of around 3.6 million places.

The pandemic, of course, did not help the situation. Thousands of providers have permanently closed their doors, while many others remain open, but struggle with increased operating costs and staff shortages, as well as changing regulations and protocols.

The childcare crisis, however, may worsen because the pandemic-era stabilization grants given to providers have begun to run out this year. That, in turn, puts more pressure on grandparents.

Jacqueline Enriquez is looking forward to traveling in retirement. But babysitting can quickly become a full-time gig.

“My daughter is two years old, and I took care of her from infancy until she was about six months old. [because] we had a hard time finding a daycare for him,” said Enriquez. “The choice is: Do I let my daughter quit her job and lose my income, or do I make sacrifices and try to find a part-time job and take care of her?”

For most grandparents, this is not a question. They will continue to sacrifice for their children, no matter how old they are.

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