Grandparents fill many roles for grandchildren

Once upon a time, going to grandma’s house meant an afternoon visit and raiding the cookie jar while she and mom had a nice chat.


Nowadays, grandparents have a more active role in the day-to-day lives of their grandchildren.

AARP conducted a survey and reported that 43 percent of grandparents are primary caregivers for their grandchildren and 16 percent provide day-care services.

Janey Rule babysits her four grandchildren so her two adult daughters can work.

The youngest, Amariya Bridges, is 14 months old. The other three – Jarrod Bridges, 16, Tazjuan Bridges, 12, and Taziyana Braxton, 16 – stay with her after school and during school holidays.
It has nothing to do with the cost of childcare and everything to do with family, Rule said.

“I want to be a support factor for my daughters. I want my grandkids to understand the value of family,” she said.

She juggles childcare with her role as executive director of Learn English for a Living Foundation, which teaches English as a second language.

When the older grandchildren were about 11, they helped Rule with the classes, which started at Mi Rancho in Clearwater, S.C.

She believes that involving her grandchildren in the program will teach them to become involved in the community when they become adults.

Her youngest granddaughter, Amariya, has begun attending day care twice a week to allow Rule time to work on administrative duties for the foundation, but her grandchildren always come first.

“For me, the thing about juggling the grandkids is priorities,” she said. “Yes, I really have a heart for the foundation, but what I can instill in my family, that’s the priority. Then after that, instill what you can in the community.”

Ellen Fortier, 50, who has four grandchildren, describes her grandparenting role as a “co-parent.”

She keeps all four of her grandchildren – Sofia Peeva, 4 months, Rosie Jackson, 6, Daniel Jackson, 7, and Rebecca Jackson, 8 – at different times, and said she always has at least one of them with her.

Fortier keeps Peeva one day a week for her elder daughter, Elizabeth Peeva. But the other three also alternate spending nights with her.

Fortier’s youngest daughter, Rachel Jackson, and her family live about a block away. Jackson’s husband has been in Afghanistan for about five years working as a civilian contractor. So Fortier steps in to fill the role of a secondary parent, helping to shuttle the kids to and from gymnastics and making sure homework gets done.

She keeps all three of the older grandchildren on Saturday nights to give Rachel a night to herself and so she can take the grandchildren to church on Sundays. But she enjoys caring for them.

“I don’t think anybody could take care of them like they should be taken care of but me,” she said. “Some people just don’t watch them as good as you think they need to be watched.”

Not only does she keep her grandchildren, but Fortier is a nanny a few days a week to four other children ages 4 to 8.

“Between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. or 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. is just crazy every day,” she said with a laugh.

She said she feels fortunate to be young enough and healthy enough to be able to be involved with her grandchildren this way.

“I think it does keep me younger and healthier for the most part,” she said. “It just think it keeps me going. If It wasn’t for them, what would I do? Just sit in the house and watch TV all day?”

Jennifer Ballentine, 40, has custody of her only grandchild, 7-month-old Ariyanna King.

She never expected to be caring for a baby full time at this point in her life, since her own youngest child is only 12.

But her daughter, Amber, became pregnant at 16. Now she’s 17 and currently in jail for making terroristic threats against her father, Ballentine’s husband.

Circumstances are less than ideal, Ballentine said, but she is doing the best she can for her granddaughter.

Caring for Ariyanna is difficult. For one thing, she is still raising her two sons, who are 12 and 16.

“I haven’t changed a diaper in 12 years,” she said. “It’s harder when we’re older. She needs 24/7 attention.”

In addition to the stress of the family situation, Ballentine was laid off in June and has had trouble finding work. Her husband’s salary pays the bills, but things are very tight financially.

She hopes that her daughter will turn her life around soon and become the mother Ariyanna needs.