When you tend to think of grandparents, you’d be forgiven for picturing someone in their sixties (or even older). In fact, the Office For National Statistics (ONS) suggests the average age for becoming a grandparent in the UK is rising.
Between 2017 and 2018, the average age people became grandparents was 63. Yet in 2009 to 2010, it was 60 years old.
That’s not to say younger grandparents don’t exist, however – but as the age people choose to become parents increases, it means younger grandparents are also becoming less common.
Kari Roberts, 60, from Botley, Hampshire, became a grandparent for the first time when she was 44 years old.
It’s safe to say the news was pretty unexpected. She recalls: “My son was 19 years old and was in shock. I remember it so clearly. We had just finished our dinner and he said ‘mum, dad I have something to tell you…’
“I asked him how he felt and he crumbled. Although I felt scared I knew how I reacted was so important. This was not about me and he needed to know we were there to support him.”
Nine months later their granddaughter was born. “From the moment I held my granddaughter, a few hours after she was born, I fell in love immediately,” she says.
That said, the journey wasn’t without some challenges – mainly unhelpful comments from others. “One thing that surprised me was some judgement from people around me about my son’s age and the myth that he would not be a responsible parent,” says Roberts.
“There was also some judgement when I told people I was a grandma in my 40s and comments around looking too young to be a grandparent and if I saw my grandchild.”
With the current retirement age in the UK for the state pension being 66 for both men and women, Roberts was still working full-time and building her career when her first grandchild arrived.
This meant she wasn’t able to spend as much time as she liked with her granddaughter. To try and find a way around this, they started a Wednesday family night tradition where they’d all have dinner together. This has since evolved into a family weekend brunch as more grandchildren have come onto the scene.
One of the major benefits of becoming a grandma so young was that she felt she had more natural energy to play and interact with her grandchildren and was able to help out with babysitting regularly at weekends as a result.
She was also able to “do lots of fun activities without needing at least a day to recover” and feels she has been able to learn a lot from her grandchildren – “they keep my mind active and keep me up to date with new music and fashion trends”.
Lisa Edge, who is 49 and based in Lancashire, can relate. She became a grandparent seven years ago when her son was 26.
“I actually left school with no qualifications and was told I’d amount to nothing after having a baby young and becoming a single mum,” she says.
Yet being a mum so young became her reason for “grabbing life with both hands and striving,” she says. Edge returned to college, then went to university, and worked in the private then public sector, making it to senior level.
“When I became a grandparent I had been a mum for 26 years, but I also have three more children – at the time 19, 17 and 12 years old – so I hadn’t really finished raising my own yet,” she explains.
“However, getting my first grandchild at 42 was amazing, it’s a love like nothing else, we have an incredible bond.”
Again, there were some challenges – mainly with having the time to see her grandchildren as she was still busy raising her own kids, as well as her nephew, who she fostered.
She also runs her own business, which eats up her time, “so their other grandma has them most days”.
Having a grandparent providing some form of childcare is a pretty common occurrence in UK households – in England in 2018, more than one in five families (22%) with children aged 14 and under had a grandparent involved in providing childcare. However for younger grandparents, many of whom still work, it can be harder to feel involved.
The 47-year-old admits “this is hard sometimes, but good to know they have a wonderful loving grandma to help them out where I can’t”.
“I’d love to do more but the business I’m building is to leave them a legacy,” she adds.
That said, the benefits of having grandchildren young are endless. Edge cites having more energy to “do all the good stuff” – like joining them on rides and trampolines, camping in the garden, dancing at discos – and says she’s “still sharp enough to have fun with them”.
It’s clear neither grandparent would change their situation for the world – and both are incredibly proud of their children for adapting to parenthood young and smashing it.
“It took me a while to get used to the idea of becoming a grandma,” says Roberts, “but when I did it was so magical.”