Lately I've been surrounded by grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. There has often been a grandparent or two at story time or the playground, but lately there has been an explosion of them! By now I've seen a lot of the same faces often enough to get to know them a little bit. My observation seems to match an actual trend: According to the last census, grandparents provide the primary childcare for 30% of working mothers with children under age five. As a mother at home, I have an outsiders' perspective on the whole dilemma of childcare, aside from the very very occasional babysitter or my babysitting buddy. I'm also certainly an outsider to the grandparents-providing-regular-childcare phenomenon, as my children's closest grandparents are nine hours' drive away. But I still find it all fascinating.
One thing I have to say is I really admire their stamina! Some of these grandmothers are running circles around me at the playground. I get tired now; I can't imagine doing this every day when I'm in my sixties!
Caregiver who really loves the children. Stability and security for the children, potential for closer relationship. Grandparent care is bound to be incomparably better than what can be found at the local Kinder Care.
Family. Perhaps out of necessity moving back to a more inter-generational model of family life? I think it's unnatural how the nuclear family model and people moving so far from where they were raised has made extended family some people you see at major holidays, but you don't share the day-to-day experiences with. Could be a step toward reversing that isolation. Obviously, it wouldn't have that effect if the family is already far apart, but for those that aren't, I could see it bringing families together for their original purpose, which is of course to raise the next generation.
Corollary to the above: Increasing respect for the wisdom of the previous generation. Mothers my age are so far removed from the "collective memory" that we are vulnerable to every stupid parenting fad marketed by the "experts". Having one's own mother intimately involved in the raising of the children would cut down on a lot of that crap.
Tough on older/less healthy grandparents, and then by extension the children. Clearly cannot work for everyone. Affects grandparents' social lives, ability to travel, and it's tiring! Make no mistake, even if they love those children to pieces it is WORK. I don't want to comment on any particular people I've met, but sometimes I think the grown children don't always appreciate the sacrifice entailed on the grandparents to take on this responsibility. I think grandparents would be completely justified in saying, "I raised you, now you raise your children! I've done my time changing diapers!"
Potential to make family relationships sticky, with children caught in the middle. So individual that it's not really worth exploring it further, but I don't think it takes much imagination to see how this might happen.
Still inferior to parent as primary day-to-day caregiver. Grandparents giving free childcare might make mother's job financially more worthwhile, therefore discouraging her from coming home. Here's where I'd get flamed, if I actually had any readers. I completely understand and accept that in this day and age it is sometimes truly necessary for both parents to be employed, or there is a single parent, etc. Let's take all the disclaimers as given. However, it is not always necessary. Very often it is a choice, made to serve the woman's own desire to do something important, live up to her potential, live a more glamorous lifestyle, whatever. Some are nobler reasons than others. And also very often, those desires were instilled in her by her own parents. Many women were raised to value career. Grandparents becoming regular babysitters is in part a logical corollary of the feminism of that generation. Grandparents end up sacrificing more than they may have bargained for when they encouraged their daughter to "have it all." So insofar as it's enabling feminist values, I'd have to assign that to the "con" side. Obviously the grandparents I'm talking about would disagree.