2013-05-23 / Local & State

Grandparents Providing More Care For Grandkids

By Ashley May


YORK, Pa. (AP) – When Heather Robinson, a single mom, was severely injured in a car crash in November 2010, her parents took care of her 13-month- old son, Christian. Without their help, she said, she would have had to put him up for adoption.

Betsy Robinson, 68, and her husband, Russell, 69, cared for their daughter and grandson for about two years in their Lower Chanceford Township home.

Their time together forged a special bond. Even though Heather and Christian now live in Alexandria, Va., they visit at least every other week.

While the Robinsons’ situation was partly fueled by need, more and more grandparents are getting involved in their grandchildren’s lives. And their involvement extends beyond the holidays and usual family functions.

In fact, today’s grandparents provide more care, money and advice to grandchildren than they ever have, according to a 2012 AARP survey of 1,904 grandparents.

Becky Gillan, AARP senior vice president of research and strategic analysis, said in some cases, grandparents are assuming the role of primary care givers.

“It’s not just taking the grandkids to their grandparents’ place for Sunday brunch anymore,’’ she said. “Grandparents are actively involved on a daily basis. They are involved financially – helping with medical, education, dental expenses.’’

Gillan said grandparents indicate that it’s important for them to spend money on and even spoil their grandchildren.

“During the recession, the one thing grandparents didn’t cut back on was their grandkids,’’ Gillan said.

Jean Koppen, director and research fellow with AARP, said research also showed that Grandpa is more involved than he ever was in playtime with the grandkids.

“ The boomers have grown up in a culture where there is less of a gender role,’’ Koppen said. “ Grandpa missed out when his children were young, but he is not going to lose this second chance.’’

Grandparents are making grandchildren more of a priority and sharing responsibilities with parents.

They provide day care and want grandchildren to stay close: More than one in 10 grandparents surveyed said they provide day care services while parents are working. Also, about seven in 10 grandparents live within 50 miles of their closest grandchildren. More than one-third of the grandparents surveyed indicated that their grandchildren had lived with them for more than five years.

Kelly Funke, 48, baby-sits both of her grandchildren, Brynn Elicker, 2, and Rylan DeNunzio, 1. She baby-sits Brynn three days a week, and Rylan whenever his parents are out of town.

Baby-sitting is such a priority for Funke, she sometimes takes vacation time from work to do it.

“I say all of this with a smile,’’ Funke said. “I’m glad that I’m able to do that.’’

She never wants her grandchildren to move away, because she said she loves seeing them weekly.

“I absolutely want them to stay close,’’ Funke said. “I thought when my daughter moved to Palmyra, it was the end of the world.’’

Some grandparents go one step further and offer their home to their grandkids, like Mark Foreman of Dover Township did.

When Foreman’s stepson fell on hard times, Foreman took him in – along with his stepson’s 6-year- old son Michael Hagarman, his stepson’s fiancee and her two children.

Because Foreman, who works as a contractor with the government, travels a lot for work, Foreman told his stepson that he could stay at his place for as long as he needed.

“They have the run of the place,’’ Foreman, 56, said. “I help them out if they need anything.’’

When Foreman is traveling, he keeps in touch with his family at home by phone or Internet.

They pay for educational materials, toys and play space: A quarter of the grandparents in the survey indicated that they spend $ 1,000 or more on their grandchildren.

Susan Ilyes, 60, from York Township, estimates spending about $ 1,500 on her granddaughter, Addison, annually. Ilyes and her husband, Floyd, keep the 3-yearold when Addison’s mother, who is single, is working, which is every other week.

Addison has her own bedroom, complete with toys, books and a Kindle Fire, all bought by Ilyes. There is even a computer, but Addison doesn’t use that yet.

“I want her to have the best that I can give her because her father is not in the picture and she’s our only grandchild,’’ Ilyes said.

She also wants her granddaughter to feel comfortable and know that she is an important part of the family.

“Basically this is home to her, too,’’ Ilyes said.

Sandy Billet, 55, from West Manchester Township, also created a space for her 6-year-old grandchild. Billet’s sunroom is a play place for grandson Brennan DeWitt. Brennan, who lives two blocks away, has an artsand crafts table, Legos, drawers of trucks and cars, and a drawing board. Billet even has a small table in the sunroom for Brennan to eat lunch with friends, when they visit. “We are very close,’’ Billet said. “He calls me Meme.’’

They are active, too. Billet also bought a basketball hoop for the driveway so they could shoot hoops this summer.

“I’m up in age and I have my job,’’ Billet said. “I can spend my money foolishly on my grandchild.’’

She estimates she spends at least $1,000 annually on Brennan. Her grandmotherly spending might increase soon, because her daughter that lives in Philadelphia has a baby on the way. She plans to see that grandchild at least twice a month.

“Being a grandparent is so much better than being a parent, because you get to love them and spoil them and, then, give them back to the parent,’’ Billet said.

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