Grandparent care doesn't lower stress for new mothers, study finds
The Sector > Research > While it’s nice to have, grandparent care doesn’t make Mum’s less stressed, study finds.

While it’s nice to have, grandparent care doesn’t make Mum’s less stressed, study finds.

by Freya Lucas

October 02, 2023

Having a grandparent on hand to care for a toddler does not have an impact on the wellbeing of mothers, a new study from Turkish and UK researchers has found. 


Academics from Sivas Cumhuriyet University, Cappadocia University and the University of Exeter examined information from a sample of mothers could find no statistical link between their children spending time with grandparents at age three years and better social and emotional development when they were seven years of age, or better maternal wellbeing and mother-child relationship at age three years.


Specifically, 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 years old.


A total of 39.3 per cent of the children (587), spent between 1 to 10 hours with their grandparents, 33.7 per cent, (505) spent between 11 and 20 hours, and 27 per cent, (403), spent above 21 hours.


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


Poor maternal well-being 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 years. Both mother-child conflict and mother-child closeness were linked directly with child social and emotional difficulties when they were seven years of age.


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


“Our findings suggest that there is no direct relationship between maternal psychological wellbeing and the quantity of support provided to families which rely primarily on grandparental childcare arrangements,” Dr Angeliki Kallitsoglou from the University of Exeter said.


“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.”


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


Grandparental support in the form of childcare may have different implications for maternal mental health for families who may have access to fewer resources of support, for instance, single mothers or across different ethnic groups or mothers in full time employment. As such, researchers said they cannot rule out the possibility of the help of grandparents for mothers with characteristics different to those in their sample to have a different impact.


Access the findings in full here

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