THEY are the unsung heroes of the nation – the grannies who clock up thousands of miles every year to care for their loved ones.
The hours are long and the motorway miles seem endless but they step in to look after their grandkids, allowing their own grown-up children to go out to work.
Far from retiring to relaxing days in the sun, Scotland’s “long-distance grannies” find themselves embarking on new – but welcome – lives as child-minders.
Research by insurer Ageas and the International Longevity Centre UK has found that grandparents save their families an average £1786 a year in childcare costs, which equates to a national figure of £16.1 billion.
Nine million grandparents spend at least eight hours a week looking after grandkids, while 2.7 million of them are heavily relied upon to regularly provide childcare.
Now grandparents’ rights campaigners are calling for families to be mindful of the sacrifices they make.
A spokeswoman for Age UK said: “As grandparents’ caring responsibilities increase, families must ensure they are both happy with any arrangements made, ensuring that grandparents do not incur any unfair financial burdens, particularly in these tough economic times.
“It’s important to recognise the huge contribution made by millions of grandparents to their families and grandchildren, and indeed to society in general.
“Grandparents are often utterly indispensable and a lot of families would struggle to keep going without them.”
Here, we speak to three selfless grannies who wouldn’t have their lives any other way.
Liz Watt regularly travels almost 190 miles along the M6 and M74 from Blackpool to Uddingston, South Lanarkshire, to look after two-year-old Emily Rose.
Her daughter-in-law Tracey and son Martin work as journalists.
Retired teacher Liz 63, said: “My mum looked after my three sons to let me work. Now it’s my turn to babysit.
“I don’t mind the travel even though it takes three hours from door to door.
“We usually stop for a break at Gretna.
“My husband Jim and I babysit two days, twice a month. We stay overnight.
“The smile on Emily’s face when we arrive is a joy.
“We moved to Blackpool seven years ago and have travelled north fortnightly for a year now.
“I catch up friends I made when my sons were born. They are grannies now, too.
“It’s a lovely time of life.
“My mum babysat for us. Now it’s our turn.”
Tracey said: “One of the challenges that comes with having kids is finding childcare and the expense that comes with it.
“So having grandparents who are happy to help out is an absolute godsend.”
MAUREEN MCCAUL 71, looks after her three grandchildren Adam, 10, Eleanor, seven, and Maeve, 14 months.
The former infant teacher from Bishopton, Renfrewshire, drives along the M8 to daughter Janet’s house in Glasgow’s west end every Monday night before babysitting on Tuesdays.
This allows orthopaedic surgeon Janet to be in theatre at the Children’s Hospital before 8am.
Her husband Jack Winter is also a doctor.
“I must be one of millions of grandparents babysitting throughout the country,” Maureen smiled. “Without this army of babysitting grans the NHS would probably grind to a halt and many business would struggle. I set off the night before just in case the traffic on the M8 holds me up.
“It’s a 6.30am rise the next morning and I will look after the children until around 7pm.
“My husband Jim will help in the afternoon by taking Maeve out for a walk in the pram. Three children can be pretty full-on.
“I worked full-time when my children were young and I know how hard it is for working mum. Like most mothers I do what it takes to support my family.
“These are wonderful years where we can be so much of our grandchildren’s lives.
“It’s truly a labour of love.”
Janet said: “My mum is a pocket rocket. She has supported me throughout my career and dotes on her grandchildren. We would be lost without her.
“We are mindful of the pressure it puts on mum and limit her hours. It’s vital to look after your parents.”
Former school librarian Joy Rendell, 60, gave up her job at Dumfries Academy and now babysits at opposite ends of the UK.
She and husband Charlie, 64, travel 80 miles up the M74 every Monday morning to look after daughter Ailsa’s children Benjamin, three, and Elizabeth, 18 months, in Newton Mearns, East Renfrewshire.
It’s a long 11-hour day even before the journey back home to Dumfries.
When they’re not there, Joy and Charlie, 64, make the 606-mile round trip to babysit for their son Alex and daughter-in-law Shona in Saffron Walden in Essex.
The couple’s daughter Amelia, just 11 months old, completes the trio of grandchildren on their babysitting rota.
“We drive around 10,000 miles a year to babysit but I love it,” said Joy.
“Our grandchildren’s faces light up when we step in the door making it all worthwhile.
“Ailsa has her own business AJR Designs and works long hours making stylish wedding dresses and gowns.
“It is intricate work and we are happy to look after the children.
“I took early retirement just in time to start babysitting.
“It’s like finishing one job and clocking on for another one in your retirement.
“Everywhere we go we meet other grandparents pushing prams because so many parents now work.
“You will see us all in the park, at playgroup and zooming along the motorway to babysit.
“It can be tiring. Some days I feel 21 and other days, about 100.
“But I am only happy to be with my grandchildren.”
Ailsa said: “Childcare is expensive, as any parent will tell you.
“Grandparents are invaluable when they look after the children on the days they are not at nursery.
“They definitely are devoted. I don’t know what I would do without them!
“The kids worship their granny and papa.”