Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Phoebe Zimmermann.
And I’m Steve Ember. This week -- meet the grandparents!
One day recently, a woman in Washington, D.C., spoke on the telephone to her first and only grandchild. The boy lives in California, on the opposite side of the United States. The grandmother talked a long time. Later, a friend asked her what the child had said.
The grandmother answered. He had not really said anything. Mostly, he cried. He was, after all, two weeks old.
A children's doctor from Chicago, Illinois, says becoming a grandparent often makes normal adults act silly, even a little crazy. He should know. He has ten grandchildren. But he says the satisfaction of being around them never gets old. He says none of his friends can escape without seeing pictures of his grandchildren.
American grandparents are surely like any other grandparents. Millions of them love to play with their grandchildren. They buy them gifts. They read to them and prepare special foods. They take them places. They teach them skills for later in life. And, in many cases, they try to make sure the children learn family traditions.
Santa Fama is a retired teacher in Bethesda, Maryland. She likes to cook Sicilian and other Italian food with her grandchildren.
Mary Horwitt of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, liked to play with her grandson -- play music, that is. Missus Horwitt, who died several years ago, was a pianist who performed concerts with her teen-age grandson.
Some grandparents are wealthy enough to pay for travel to faraway places with their grandchildren. But others are happy to take their grandchildren to local parks. Or they might watch them perform in some event at school. That is, if they live close enough to attend.
Today, many Americans live far from their grandparents. School mental health specialist Suzy Karpel says she regrets this fact of modern life. She says she often sees situations in which families need the advice and support of grandparents. Mizz Karpel says this is true especially when problems develop. This is when parents might wish most that they had a helpful grandparent nearby.
If you ask grandparents how it feels to be a grandparent, most will immediately say “wonderful.” They like spending time with their grandchildren. But many will also go on to say that they like being able to return the children to their parents when the time comes.
These grandparents have already gone through the daily cares and worries of raising children. Now it is time for them to take pleasure in their grandchildren.
Yet some grandparents have the responsibility of full-time care for their children’s children. At any one time, the research organization RAND says, ten percent of grandparents live only with a grandchild.
RAND says four-million children in the United States live with their grandparents. But two-and-one-half-million of them also have at least one of their parents in the same home. These children represent around four-percent of all grandchildren. RAND researchers say this percentage has not changed much in recent years. But the growing number of young people in the United States means that the total numbers are rising.
Nearly one-and-one-half million children live with their grandparents only. This is two percent of all grandchildren. The RAND researchers say this rate has increased in recent years, but not much. It had been decreasing from nineteen-forty through the nineteen-eighties.
The RAND researchers say African American children are more likely to live with their grandparents. They report that about eight percent live with their parents and grandparents. Almost six percent live only with their grandparents.
The researchers say black grandmothers historically have played a more important part in child-raising than white grandmothers. The researchers add that higher poverty rates among minority families may also help explain these numbers.
Some grandparents who care for their grandchildren have legal custody. This means they have full responsibility for raising them. Other grandparents take care of their grandchildren full time, but do not have legal control. In some cases, one or both parents also stay in the grandparents' home, but are unable to care for their children.
Some grandparents take care of their grandchildren only during the day. This is so one or both of the parents can work or attend school.
The reasons that grandparents become caretakers for their grandchildren are often sad, as you might think. The parents may have died. Or they may no longer live together. Other times, a parent might have a serious health problem, or use illegal drugs. One or both parents may be in jail. Or they left their children without care, or physically mistreated them.
Mental health specialists say there is no way to know how children will feel living with their grandparents. They may feel happy and secure, or they may suffer emotional problems. They might mourn the loss of the family situation they had before. Young people may not want to obey the rules and advice from their grandparents. Other children at school might even make fun of their living situation.
The grandparents also may have difficulties. Even if they receive public aid, they may struggle financially to support their grandchildren. Grandparents who have jobs may have to find additional childcare.
Grandparents who are responsible for young children might not have the energy to deal with them. Health is an issue. Older people might worry about, if they die, what would happen to their grandchildren.
Social workers say many grandparents who care for their children’s children express loneliness. They do not have anyone to talk to about the children’s health or schoolwork or problems of growing up. Most friends their age finished with such concerns long ago.
A program in Dorchester, Massachusetts, helps caretaker grandparents deal with situations like these. The program is called GrandFamilies House. This is a living center with twenty-seven apartments for grandparents and their grandchildren. Most of the adults are grandmothers.
Several agencies also operate in the building. The Y.W.C.A. of Boston, for example, provides childcare and help with schoolwork. It also provides computer education for people of all ages.
Several years ago, researchers from the University of Massachusetts did a study at GrandFamilies House. They asked about issues like how the grandparents felt spending their later years caring for grandchildren. One woman said she enjoyed seeing her grandchildren grow up. She said she had worked all the time when her own children were small. Another grandmother said the children kept her young.
A place like GrandFamilies House also helps keep families together. Many of the grandparents say they are glad to be able to keep their grandchildren out of foster care. Foster care is a system where state and local agencies place children in temporary homes or emergency shelters.
Americans celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day. So why not a day to honor grandparents?
Grandparents Day was established in nineteen-seventy-eight. This holiday is observed in September on the first Sunday after Labor Day in the United States. Some families gather for a special meal. Others will send gifts or cards to faraway grandparents, or call, or write them an e-mail.
But grandparents do not need a special holiday to talk to their grandchildren. A computer programmer who lives in Reston, Virginia, says she will never forget a telephone call she received. The call came a few minutes before she was about to get married. It was her grandfather on the line. He was eighty-seven-years old, and very sick. He called to say, “Have a happy life!”
Our program was written Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Phoebe Zimmermann.
And I’m Steve Ember. Listen again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in Special English, on the Voice of America.