I'm Gen X and would love to provide childcare for my future grandkids. But I'll be too old when I can afford to retire.

My son and daughter, now 21 and 18, were always very close to my parents as they grew up. My mom and dad were frequently present, playing with the children and helping out with babysitting. It was heartwarming to witness their bond. Although my dad has passed away, my mom continues to be an active and supportive grandmother. She often looks after my niece and nephew, who are 16 and 13. I aspire to be a similarly involved grandmother when my children start their own families. However, due to my lack of savings, pension, and a 20-year mortgage to pay off, I'll need to work into my 70s. Consequently, I won't be available to care for my grandkids when they are young and most in need of me. Both my future grandchildren and I will miss out on these experiences, leaving their parents to manage and bear the escalating costs of childcare.

I found joy in being the primary caregiver for my children. I married in 1999 while working as a journalist in the UK. After our daughter was born in June 2003, I became a stay-at-home mom. Fortunately, my former husband had a six-figure income. I contributed a bit through part-time PR work. I enjoyed being the main carer for our kids, but since my ex began his workday at 1:30 a.m. and slept during the day, it often felt like being a single mom. Therefore, I was always very thankful when my parents helped with babysitting, which strengthened our family bonds and saved us significant expenses.

In 2018, when I was 45, my ex and I separated. It was an emotionally and financially challenging time. I hadn't held a regular job for 15 years or contributed to a pension. Many people, particularly women, talk about having an emergency savings fund to depend on if financial circumstances change abruptly, such as through divorce or job loss.  

A woman wearing a halter neck beige top
Merrett said her daughter has learned from her experience. Courtesy of Jo Merrett

I had believed our family's future was secure, so I didn't save any money. Many of my friends who have gone through a divorce at my age share a similar experience. While I did receive some government benefits, especially during the pandemic, they were insufficient to depend on. From 2018 to 2021, I took on various low-paying jobs such as teaching French to preschoolers, working at a nursery school, and stocking shelves in a supermarket for less than the minimum wage. I kept track of my job applications and counted about 1,600 in total. Despite having a college degree, I think my extended career break deterred many employers. Finally, in December 2021, I secured a full-time position in the hospitality industry. Now, I work as the head of philanthropy at a cancer charity and also offer public speaking coaching as a side gig. I openly discuss the highs and lows of my life, including my financial situation. 

My ex's child maintenance payments ended when my children turned 18, and my divorce was finalized last year, which has been challenging. Earlier this year, we moved into a smaller home after I took out a 20-year mortgage with my daughter. I realize that unless I win the lottery, I will be working until I'm at least 71. If I have grandchildren in the next five to ten years, I will be a working grandmother and too busy to babysit. The realization that I wouldn’t be able to do what many grandparents do—such as what my mom still does for my sister—was a tough pill to swallow.

Despite this, I maintain a positive outlook. I can't change the past, but one positive outcome is that my daughter acknowledges that I have taught her wisdom and grace. She understands the importance of securing her own income for her financial future, a lesson she says she will always remember.  

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