Most people who reach the traditional retirement age look forward to spending more time together, particularly doing a lot of travel, even though many choose to work part time as a necessary step to increase their inadequate superannuation. But now many are denied this well-earned right because their children pressure them to look after the grandchildren so both parents can be in full-time employment and maintain a lifestyle that their own parents never experienced.
Seniors become slaves five days a week because their children prey unashamedly on granny’s undeniable love of grandchildren. By avoiding childcare fees, they save at least 10% of their pay packet. This act of selfishness represents elder abuse on a grand scale, and it is a disgrace. Indeed, it can be a breach of age discrimination laws.
However, despite the fact that most parents would clearly prefer higher government childcare subsidies in preference to paid maternity leave, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been given a misguided electoral mandate to introduce six months’ paid parental leave and will do so during 2014. It is a social tragedy, as it also represents another form of elder abuse, because those paid parental leave funds should rightfully be diverted in full to grandparents for their massive contribution to childcare, which is irresponsibly taken for granted by children and politicians.
Right now, 40% of children in Australia are cared for by grandparents, and this figure increases daily as more and more parents feel growing cost pressures. Indeed, two out of three parents want their parents to care for their children on a regular basis. This is not surprising, as 66% of mothers are in employment.
Grandma suffers the most from this arrangement. In many circumstances, she was denied a career because the social pressure of her era made her a stay-at-home mum. Now, in her senior years, she dreams of getting back into employment to prove the skills she was stopped from using all those years ago. But she is denied it once more by children who forget that she has human aspirations just as much as they do.
It’s bad for national economics, too, as with a falling birth rate and an ageing workforce, she is needed as a positive contributor.
But a social revolt is blossoming. Often, parents ask neighbours and friends to be their babysitters, and now those folk are saying no in increasing numbers as they want a life of their own, just as grandparents do, and they are also wary of legal responsibilities if accidents happen. This trend is encouraging grandparents to start their own revolt. It will grow, and rightly so.
There is also an educational gap. Sociologists say that a child cared for by grandparents does not mature as quickly as one in childcare as, no matter how skilled and devoted grandparents are, they are not trained teachers.
The onus is on governments to invest far more in childcare and early childhood education while increasing parent subsidies so every child has as much access as they will when they start school. Saying that government can’t afford the additional costs of childcare is a nonsense.
Scrapping six months paid parental leave is essential. It is an outrageous extravagance, the scrapping of which will make most voters cheer as it unnecessarily helps women who, in many cases, are wealthy. It is one of the most wasteful examples of greedy middle-class entitlement that I have witnessed in my 82 years.
Of course, this issue must also be looked at in reverse. Too many older Australians expect their families to be their carers at home when they reach the stage of advanced geriatric illness. This must cease too, as it is another form of child abuse, and too many oldies prey on their children’s love in those circumstances. Clearly, we need more nursing homes.
The ageing tsunami is upon us. Seniors want independence. So do their children. Governments are way behind the eight ball is keeping up with these major social developments of the day. If they act now, it will cost the economy less than if we pretend it doesn’t exist. It will also boost productivity among the old and the young.
*Everald Compton, 83, was formerly an adviser to the federal government on ageing