Family life

One of the benefits of working less is that you can spend more time with those that matter most to you, such as your children and grandchildren. Aside from spending more time together, how else can you offer support?

What’s it like, being a grandparent?

Exciting and daunting, for most people. It can be an opportunity to become 'hands on' with little ones, in a way that perhaps eluded you the first time around.

It's also a chance to explore the time you have to spare as a rewarding period for yourself and enjoying the bond you form with your children's children. Of course, as time has changed, you may find you're indispensable as a 'helping hand' for your son and daughter, especially if they're still working.

How can I make the most of my relationship with grandchildren?

  • Be as close to them as you can, and as you feel is appropriate – you'll have to be guided by your son or daughter as to the amount of time that's not an imposition. But distance doesn't need to be a barrier, ever. Make the effort to see them as often as possible, and if you feel that you don't want to impose, try and find a reasonably priced local B&B nearby for a couple of nights.
  • Be patient and pragmatic. Your views on parenting may be different to your children's views. If you don't approve of something, be diplomatic – but remember, you're a grandparent now, not a parent. Have fun, provide support. Offer advice if you're asked for it, but be prepared to be rebuffed – it's only natural.
  • Get into technology – your grandchildren will probably love you for it. Video calling via Skype (or FaceTime if you're an Apple user) is free and easy, and a practical way to stay in touch, particularly if you're living a long way away from them.
  • Share your experiences and your memories. Children love to explore new things, but you're a font of useful information for them too. Teach them 'old' or 'traditional' skills and pastimes; things like basic car maintenance, knitting, or even cooking may be skills they won't necessarily pick up easily in today's busy world.

What else should I think about?

Well, there's a lot to be said for being patient and prudent – perhaps not offering your opinion on parenting skills as much or as often as you'd like – but as a grandparent, there's probably a lot you can 'get away' with too.

However, if you're going to spoil them in some way, be tactful (and pragmatic: it's easy to overspend); but have a care for 'helping' rather than 'hindering' if you are buying presents. A new electronic game may make your grandchildren very happy, but their parents may prefer help with books, scholastic equipment or even – boring as it may sound – the cost of shoes, gym kit or coats.

Financially how could I offer some support?

It's not uncommon for grandparents to provide financial support to grandchildren and there are a number of ways this can be done. Financial gifts of up to £3,000 can be made each tax year that are exempt from inhertiance tax. In addition, grandparents can also make contributions to Junior ISAs or existing Child Trust Funds.

Child trust funds were available for children born between September 2002 and January 2011. These accounts are now closed for new applications, but you can still make contributions to existing accounts. Up to £9,000 can be contributed each tax year and the money belongs to the child, but they won't be able to access it until they are 18.

Child Trust Funds have been replaced by Junior ISAs. There are two types of Junior ISA available – a cash ISA or a stocks and shares ISA. You can save into one or both types of Junior ISA and the savings limit is £9,000 per tax year.

You can now convert Child Trust Funds into Junior ISAs, in order to take advantage of more innovative and competitive products that are now available.