Voices: £16 an hour for babysitting? It’s the least grandparents deserve

People, for some reason, feel entitled to free babysitting whenever they want  (Getty)
People, for some reason, feel entitled to free babysitting whenever they want (Getty)

It’s always a bit of a risk, asking on a public forum whether you’re an a***hole.

Still, a young mother asked Reddit where the world stood on expecting her mother to provide full-time childcare for nothing – and resenting her when she didn’t. (Or rather, when her mother asked to be paid $20 an hour, or £16, for her services.)

It’s hardly an A-level question. Yes ducky, you are a massive… well, your word, not mine. Of course, your mother is within her rights. Of course, you are not. As the world has now made clear.

Fair enough to the grandmother, I say.

The implication that a grandparent has nothing better to do with his or her time than provide free childcare – all day, every day – is downright demeaning.

True, in some cultures, this is an essential part of the economy. A friend described rural Nepal some decades ago, where he founded several hospitals and spent most of his working life. Over there, parents worked the soil and grandparents worked rearing the children.

If we lived near our daughter and didn’t have work of our own, we might agree to provide full-time childcare, just as my parents welcomed our autistic son to live with them and tutored him, after his school let him down.

But this is totally different from what madam here is demanding. What Shaun and I currently provide – and what my parents also provided – is fun and holidays and parties and time-out when we want. At our convenience. When we offer (or are politely asked, and happen to be free) on an occasional basis.

But the far bigger issue in this story is the daughter’s outrageous sense of entitlement. She has asked her mother for childcare. Her mother has agreed, but wants to be paid for it. It isn’t what I’d do, but it is totally reasonable. The daughter doesn’t have to accept the terms.

The grandmother is being required to do a professional job and wants to be treated as a professional. And, under such an arrangement, she would have to behave like one: be there on days when she didn’t feel like it, reorganise her social life around the commitment, manage her holidays to fit in with her daughter’s.

Asking friends and family for amateur freebies when you actually need professional services often backfires, when it is no longer convenient.

So, fair enough to the grandmother. Her daughter claims she does nothing but watch TV and cook. So? Doesn’t she have a right to, if she can afford it?

Ok, full disclosure. My husband and I (let’s get the sexism out of the way: why is this a daughter-mother thing? Why didn’t her partner ask his dad?) wouldn’t dream of demanding anything for looking after our daughter’s two boys.

Our daughter recently asked her father (he’s much more likely to say yes) if we’d like to go and stay for half a week so she could enjoy her husband’s work trip to Malta. They have a young au pair and her brother shares their house, but she wanted to bring in the US Cavalry. We had a whale of a time… though admittedly I didn’t get much work done.

And we were paid, after a fashion: mostly in gin. But also kisses and cuddles.

Our first experience of grandparental care came when our daughter left home, aged eight months, in the back of my parents’ car after Christmas – so Shaun and I could read in front of the fire eating cold turkey and Stilton. My mother was the perfect grandmother (perfect in everything, in truth).

Well into her late eighties, she rose at six each morning to prepare work for her private pupils… until dementia stripped her of maths and memory both, over one brief, cruel summer. Consequently, she never seemed in need of our time or attention, she was so fulfilled and happy.

But she always had time for our children. My parents joyfully took them to the seaside every summer, so I could write undistracted.

Payment? They would have been appalled.

So it goes very much against the grain and my upbringing to hear of a grandparent demanding money. (Just as we wouldn’t think of asking our adult son, who lives in our basement, for rent – my parents never did that to us, so why would we?)

Caring for grandchildren is a privilege and joy. We are honoured to be trusted and would no more expect anything than when we were rearing our own children: we are thrilled they enjoy spending time with us and their affection is ample reward.

This is where the grandmother in this story and I part company. Her daughter’s attitude is disgusting. Worse, she has gone public to resolve it. What should be a private family matter is now being read and commented on by strangers.

By any standards, the daughter has behaved appallingly – and lost all my sympathy.

But who brought her up? How did she become such a princess in the first place? Parents can’t be blamed for all their offsprings’ sins, but there is something very unattractive about the whole set-up.

I value my daughter’s opinion far more than my own, so I sent her the story for her comments.

“ESH. HTH.” She replied, far too busy for more.

“Eh?” I wrote back. “Translation please.”

“HTH = hope this helps. ESH = everyone sucks here.”

Anne Atkins is a novelist, writer and broadcaster. Her latest novel, An Elegant Solution, inspired by her autistic son, can be found here and here