Tips for staying sane when rearing your grandchildren.
Feb. 21, 2000 (San Francisco) -- Ten years ago, Beulah Benson could dispense
with the drudgery of housework in a matter of hours. Now the 65-year-old cleans
a room a day in her modest South Los Angeles home. The slower schedule is
crucial if Benson is going to conserve enough energy for a more important
responsibility: rearing her 10-year-old granddaughter.
"I always thought I would have the same energy I always did, but the
older you get, you realize you don't," says Benson, who single-handedly
juggles a part-time job, household duties, and the feeding, dressing, taxiing,
and parenting of her learning-disabled granddaughter. "I've had to
reprogram myself to conserve the energy I have."
One of Many
Benson is one of millions of grandparents nationwide who, because of their
own children's death, illness, incapacitation, or neglect have taken over the
upbringing of their grandchildren. According to the AARP (formerly the American
Association of Retired Persons), nearly 4 million children in the United
States, or 6%, live with their grandparents. And for more than a quarter of
those, nana and bumpa (and frequently just nana) are their sole caregivers.
Researchers have begun focusing on the phenomenon's health effects on
grandparents. Parenting can be stressful and taxing for any adult, but two
recently published studies conclude that for grandparents, child rearing can be
an extra heavy burden.
According to a study published in September 1999 in the American Journal
of Public Health, grandparents who parent had more problems negotiating
day-to-day activities than grandparents without custodial obligations. The
study surveyed more than 3,300 noncustodial and 173 caregiving grandparents
about activities such as moving about the home, climbing stairs, walking six
blocks, and handling household chores. The grandparents who parent might have
had more trouble, the researchers speculate, simply because they were exposed
to their limitations more often as a result of their child care roles.
The findings are no surprise to Esme Fuller-Thomson, Ph.D., one author of
the study and an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Department
of Family and Community Medicine -- especially since nearly three quarters of
caregiving grandparents began raising their grandkids at infancy or preschool
age. "That's a really physically demanding time," Fuller-Thomson
Benson sometimes hits her limit. During a recent trip to Disneyland, she had
to catch her breath after a turn on what she thought would be a relatively tame
ride. ''It was foolish for me to get on that thing,'' she says. ''What if I had
had a heart attack?''
Bringing up grandkids can take a psychological toll as well. According to a
study in the November 1999 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Social
Sciences evaluating nearly 1,800 grandparents, depression is more common
among grandmothers who parent than those who don't, but not so among caregiving
grandfathers. But overall, the researchers note, the effects on well-being they
found were relatively small. One factor causing depression among grandmothers
who mother is their tendency to focus more on the needs of their grandchildren
than on their own physical and emotional health, says Lillian Carson, D.S.W.,
L.C.S.W., a Santa Barbara psychotherapist. Isolation plays a role, too, she
says, because these grandmothers may feel separated from friends whose lives
are very different.