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Life for Many Grandparents Not All Fun and Games


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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.  I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Shirley Griffith.  A grandmother wants to show a friend some pictures of her one-year-old grandson.  The friend is happy to look.  She looks at pictures of the little boy playing.  She looks at pictures of him sleeping, smiling, laughing, crying, putting food in his hair.  After fifteen minutes of this, the friend does not look so happy anymore.

But who can get angry at a proud grandparent?  In fact, our program this week is all about grandparents.

Some children get to see their grandparents all year.  The grandparents live close enough to come watch the children play sports or perform in a school play.  For other children, the only chance they might get to spend much time with their grandparents is during summer, when school is out.

Many Americans live far away from their grandparents.  Suzy Karpel, a school mental-health specialist, deplores this fact of modern life.  Ms. Karpel says she often sees families that could use the advice and support of grandparents.  She says this is true especially when problems develop.  Then parents might wish most that they had a helpful grandparent nearby.

Grandparents have already gone through the daily cares and worries of raising children.  Now those children have grown up and have their own kids to worry about.

Yet many grandparents in the United States have to take a major part in caring for their grandchildren.

The research organization RAND says that at any one time, 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 numbers have grown with increases in the number of young people in the United States.

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 by much.  It had been decreasing from nineteen forty through the nineteen eighties.

RAND says African American children are more likely than others to live with their grandparents.  The researchers report that about eight percent of black children 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 that they are legally responsible for raising the children.

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.

There are different reasons that grandparents may become caretakers for their grandchildren.  In some cases, the parents are dead, or on drugs, or in jail.  Or they mistreated 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.

Mental health specialists say there is no way to know how children will feel living with their grandparents.  Some feel happy and secure.  Others mourn the loss of the family situation they had before.  They might not want to listen to their grandparents or do what the grandparents tell them.

Grandparents can also face other problems.  In some cases, even if they receive public aid, they may struggle to support their grandchildren.  Grandparents with jobs may have to find additional child care.

And there are other considerations.  Grandparents who are responsible for young children might not have the energy to take care of them.  Health is an issue.  What if the grandparents die?  Then who would take care of the children?

Social workers say many grandparents who care for their children’s children feel lonely.  They may not have anyone to talk to about the children’s health or schoolwork or the normal problems of growing up.

A program in Dorchester, Massachusetts, helps caretaker grandparents deal with situations like these.  The program is called GrandFamilies House.  Grandparents and their grandchildren live together in apartments.  Most of the grandparents are women.

A place like GrandFamilies House helps keep families together.  A GrandFamilies official says the grandparents are glad to be able to keep their grandchildren out of foster care.  Foster care is a system in which government agencies place children in temporary homes or emergency shelters.

The idea behind GrandFamilies is spreading.  In New York, public and private organizations have developed a similar housing program.  It is called Presbyterian Senior Services Grandparent Family Apartments.  There are fifty such apartments in a new building.  It was built just for this purpose.  The building is in one of the poorest areas of the city, the Morrisania community in the South Bronx.

New York City has eighty-five thousand households in which grandparents are the main caretakers of children.  More than seventeen thousand of them are in the Bronx, one of the five boroughs in America's largest city.

Services at the Grandparent Family Apartments include after-school help with studies and Internet use for young and old alike.

Some grandparents in the United States never see their grandchildren.  Sometimes this happens after a mother and father are no longer married, or one parent dies.  Or there may have been a conflict between the parents and the grandparents.

Courts in some states have decided that grandparents have no legal right to visit their grandchildren without permission.  Other states make it possible to ask a court for visitation rights.  But a group called the Grandparents Rights Organization says even then it is not easy for grandparents to win.

Americans celebrate Mother's Day and Father's Day.  There is also a Grandparents Day.  It was established in nineteen seventy-eight.  Grandparents Day is observed in September.  Some families gather for a special meal.  Others telephone or send gifts or cards or an e-mail to grandparents far away.

AARP, the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, has an area for grandparents on its Web site.  The resources include some suggested books on grandparenting.  These are books with names like "The Grandparent Guide: The Definitive Guide to Coping with the Challenges of Modern Grandparenting."  And, "The Don't Sweat Guide for Grandparents: Making the Most of Your Time with Your Grandchildren."  Still another is called "The Nanas and the Papas: A Boomers' Guide to Grandparenting."

Boomers are Americans who were born during the big population increase -- the baby boom -- in the years after World War Two.  As they grew up, they listened to the music of groups like the Mamas and the Papas.  Now, many are mamas and papas with children old enough to have babies of their own.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver.  Our engineer was Kelvin Fowler.  I’m Steve Ember.

And I’m Shirley Griffith.  Our programs are on the Web at voaspecialenglish.com.  Our e-mail address is special at voanews.com Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.


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