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Grandparent Childcare May Not Benefit The Mental Wellbeing Of Mothers

Grandparent childcare for toddlers doesn’t have an impact on the wellbeing of their mothers, a new study suggests.

Childcare on demand

As many of us reach school half term week, some will reach out to our parents to take over the childminding task while we continue to work. But how does this affect the mental wellbeing of mothers and their relationship with their children?

Researchers have found that extra help from another generation alone doesn’t help mother-child closeness or reduce mother-child conflict.

Researchers who examined information from a sample of mothers could find no statistical link between their children spending time with grandparents at age three and better social and emotional development when they were seven or better maternal wellbeing and mother-child relationship at age three.

The academics have called for more investment in early childhood child and maternal mental health and wellbeing. Parents who took part in the study indicated grandparents were their primary source of childcare, and they had less other support.

More about the study

The study was carried out by Nevra Atış Akyol from Sivas Cumhuriyet University, Turkey, Derya Atalan Ergin from Cappadocia University, Turkey, and Angeliki Kallitsoglou from the University of Exeter.

The researchers examined information from 1,495 mothers and their children. The findings showed that time spent in the care of grandparents for at least six months was not significantly associated with better maternal mental health and wellbeing and mother-child relationship or better social and emotional outcomes for children when they were seven.

The study, which used data from the Millennium Cohort Study, shows poor maternal wellbeing at age three predicted poor child social and emotional outcomes at age seven. A total of 39.3% of the children (587) spent between 1 to 10 hours with their grandparents, 33.7% (505) spent between 11 and 20 hours, and 27% (403) spent above 21 hours.

The Kessler Screening Scale for Psychological Distress assessed maternal psychological wellbeing. The 15-item Child Parent Relationship Scale measured maternal perceptions of mother-child relationships. The parent report of the 25-item Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was used to assess child ratings of emotional or behavioral difficulties.

What did the results show?

Poor maternal wellbeing was linked directly with more mother-child conflict and less mother-child closeness. Poor maternal wellbeing was associated with higher levels of emotional problems, conduct problems, and peer problems at age seven. Mother-child conflict and mother-child intimacy were linked directly with children’s social and emotional difficulties when they were seven.

More mother-child conflict at age three was associated with fewer prosocial behaviors and higher levels of inattention/hyperactivity, emotional problems, peer problems, and conduct problems at age seen. Lower mother-child closeness at age three was associated with fewer prosocial behaviors and higher inattention/hyperactivity, emotional problems, peer problems, and conduct problems at age seven.

Speaking about the team’s research, Dr. Kallitsoglou said,

“Our findings suggest that there is no direct relationship between maternal psychological wellbeing and the quantity of support provided to families that rely primarily on grandparental childcare arrangements. While an extra pair of hands may impact maternal outcomes such as stress with child upbringing, it may not potentially be enough to alleviate more distal parenting outcomes such as maternal psychological distress.”

“However, the findings are tentative. Grandparental support in the form of childcare may have different implications for maternal mental health for families who may have access to fewer support resources, for instance, single mothers across different ethnic groups or mothers in full-time employment.

Dr. Kallitsoglou concluded,

So, we cannot rule out the possibility of the help of grandparents for mothers with characteristics different from those in our sample to have a different impact. We did not find any evidence to suggest that practical support with childcare as measured by the time children spent time in the care of grandparents during the week is beneficial for the parent-child relationship.”


While there is much further work to be carried out in this fascinating area, the results of this study are undoubtedly eye-opening. It provides food for thought to all those parents (and not just mothers) who rely on their own parents stepping in to help when work commitments and childcare needs clash – an issue that will not likely go away any time soon.

What are your thoughts on this study? Tell us more in the comments. 

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