Childrearing

The Age Of The Grandparents: Modern Parents Still Getting Financial Support From Their Families

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Tonight, my husband and I are going on a date. It’s been a month or so since we had a night just the two of us. I’m really hoping we head to my favorite Thai restaurant. It was my husband’s job to plan the date though so I have no idea where we’re going. I know where one member of our family is going though. My daughter is going to her Mimi and Poppa’s house for a sleepover. Sure, my husband and I could call a babysitter. We happen to have an amazing one. But my parents just never mind a night helping out and taking care of our little girl for a night.

My parents don’t just help with the occasional babysitting when it comes to my daughter. Last year, my mom paid for my daughter’s first year of dance class. She called it a gift. She did it for both of her granddaughters. It’s not that my sister or I couldn’t afford it. It’s not that our daughters wouldn’t have been able to take lessons if my mom didn’t cover the cost. It was just that grandma wanted to help out, and all of us were very appreciative.

My mom and dad are not alone. They are part of a huge trend in extremely involved grandparents. A new study by the University of Chicago shows that 61% of grandparents provided more than 50 hours of care a year at some point in time during their grandchildren’s lives. Between nights I work late or weekends babysitting, I have no doubt that my parents have hit that level every year of my daughter’s life.

Another study that comes out today, timed nicely with Grandparent’s Day tomorrow, says that a full 62% of grandparents provide financial support for their children. The average amount over the past five years being $8,289. This money mostly goes towards investments and education, and I doubt it includes all of the money spent by grandparents.

When I think about the back-to-school shopping money that my mom slips my way or the family vacations where my dad picks up the tab, it’s easy to see how that number could get even higher. Grandparents today aren’t just helping out, they are the new parental safety net. Retired parents become the daycare providers for working moms. Well-off grandparents make the investments that young moms and dads can’t afford to.

We all talk about the rising cost of having children. Some estimates put the current average cost of a child – before college – at $235,000. It’s an amazing amount of money. No wonder parents are looking to their own parents for cheap childcare and financial support. We all need it.

In those talks though, we should probably acknowledge that a lot of families are coping with inflating costs by leaning on previous generations. In a way, it makes me think of my own parents’ childhoods, when homes were often multi-generational to help care for the elderly. My grandmother has awesome stories about taking her blind aunt and her three young children to the grocery store all together. Maybe we’ll start seeing a return to that family set-up. It won’t be to care for elderly parents, it will be to support the future generation that’s struggling in a rough economy.

The more I think about, the more modern parents have to be thankful for tomorrow. The more I think about it, the more my date night needs to include a brief stop to get a “Thank you” present for my amazing parents.