It’s every ‘Nana’ for herself. That seems to be the attitude of Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School, who wrote in Bloomberg that grandparents should “think twice” before agreeing to help too much with their grandchildren’s childcare: “While you love your children and grandchildren, and relish the idea of spending more time with them, stop and think what you may be giving up by saying yes to a full-time role.”
One of the only upsides of the pandemic and lockdown was the way that they brought multiple generations of family closer together, sometimes under one roof. And many of those families ended up sharing child care responsibilities among the different generations. The Wall Street Journal reported that a third of parents with children under five were relying on grandparents for help with child care. This turned out to be especially true among nonwhite families, where parents were more likely to be in jobs they could not perform from home and more likely to be living in multigenerational households already.
Though the arrangements took some getting used to, many families found joy in the new opportunities for closeness. The Journal describes how one couple, Ron and Sharon Rising, took over full-time care of their grandchildren when cases started rising and their daughter, Kristin, a doctor, had to pull the kids out of school: “The good moments buoy the family: Sharon cheering as one of the girls, now 3 1/2, mastered writing the ‘s’ in her name, Kristin joining her mother for a last-minute walk at 9 p.m.” And an article in the New York Times describes grandparents taking kids to the park and supervising virtual learning and surprise scavenger hunts.
But never mind the heartwarming stories of grandma (and grandpa) helping out in a pinch. Ghilarducci says these older folks don’t know what they’re missing:
The biggest losses from taking care of grandchildren are what economists call opportunity, or indirect, costs. Filling your days with watching your grandchildren means you miss the chance to pursue other interests and interact with adults.
It’s rare to see that level of condescension—even from the most out-of-touch academics. But Ghilarducci delivers. Oh, you mean if I do this thing, I’ll have less time to do that thing? No way.
But wait, it gets worse. Kids have germs! Yes, Ghilarducci actually mentions that kids get other people sick as a reason to not care for your grandchildren. This is something I’m sure no grandparent thought about during the pandemic when they were considering helping out. As if that weren’t bad enough, she writes that having grandparents care for children may be bad for children because grandparents give kids too many treats, making the grandchildren less healthy. Who is this woman? The New School Grinch? Do you think the obesity problem in this country is being fueled by Grandpa sharing his butterscotch candies?
Ghilarducci has built a name for herself, saying that seniors don’t have enough money when they retire and suggesting that the government offer them some kind of minimum wage to live on, in addition to social security. And just like seniors would be better supported by government agencies, it seems she also thinks kids would be better cared for by institutional daycare. Everyone in a family should pursue his or her own self-interest and let government handle any gaps. Of course, pooling resources generally saves everyone in a family more money, and a grandmother who moves in to care for her grandchildren is probably more likely to be cared for by family in her own old age.
The problem with Ghilarducci’s solutions to family problems is that they may fix some financial issues—maybe Grandma can make more money working as a Wal-Mart greeter than caring for her grandson, and daycare workers probably won’t give her grandsons too many cookies—but they take no account of the happiness and well-being that come from spending more time with family.
In fact, researchers from Cornell University found that “grandparents living with their grandchildren experienced more happiness and more meaningfulness when they engaged in activities with their grandchildren compared to spending time alone or with other people.”
Before reading Ghilarducci’s article, I frankly would have looked at such research and thought the conclusion was so obvious, it hardly needed to be stated. But apparently there are academics out there who actually need to be told that spending time with grandkids is fun and satisfying. (Why do you think parents are always harassing their adult kids to give them grandchildren?) As for the grandparents who decide they’d rather spend more time with other adults and pursue their own career goals, well, maybe the kids are fine spending less time with them anyway.