IT's a well-known fact that many of us live so far from our parents that the extended family as it once was - all pitching in to help out - is just a memory. And like many well known facts, it's not actually true.
Firstly, the golden age was never that golden: yes, we're more mobile now, but people have moved away for work for centuries. And secondly, nearby or not one in three of us still have some help from grandparents with childcare. How come? Because the hidden consequence of families scattering far and wide is sometimes not the lonely parent, but the rise of the commuter granny.
I know people whose parents come weekly to London from Kent, Lincolnshire, Surrey, and Oxfordshire to help out. My own parents have bailed us out several times despite living three hours' drive away. The recent Family Commission report from the charity 4Children found that while most couples don't live near their extended families, 60 per cent still relied on grandparents for support. They're still helping, but from further away - and possibly at greater cost to themselves.
This column describing a lonely granny in the playground, surrounded by nannies and mothers who 'swan about in boots and swirly coats' but don't talk to her, made me think. Granny childcare round the corner, fitting the kids round their own lives, is one thing: but some commuter grannies can be stranded miles from home, knowing nobody locally, a generation older than anyone at playgroup. It's stressful to parent like that, so why wouldn't it be stressful for grandparents, however much they love the kids?
Yet to admit to struggling is to feel they've not just let down their grandchildren but the adult children who rely on them. No wonder grandparents in Spain threatened to go on strike earlier this summer. Are grannies here taking more of the strain than we realise?