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Published January 14, 2013, 11:35 PM

Grandparent caregivers foster special relationships

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Pat Swiers provides regular child care for her youngest grandson. She says the one-on-one time has given her a relationship with him she wouldn’t have otherwise.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Pat Swiers provides regular child care for her youngest grandson.

She says the one-on-one time has given her a relationship with him she wouldn’t have otherwise.

“Sometimes I think the value of grandparenting and what you can contribute is underestimated,” said the rural Detroit Lakes woman. “It’s very important.”

Swiers, who has 11 grandchildren with two more on the way, started an Amish furniture store in Detroit Lakes a few years ago. While she really enjoyed what she was doing, she felt she was missing what was happening with her grandchildren, so she sold the store to be home and available for her family, she said.

“I really don’t think many of us realize the value to a child of having grandparents involved in their lives,” Swiers said. “I feel so privileged to be given an opportunity to accomplish that.”

Today’s grandparents are more connected than ever to their children and grandchildren. Thirty-two percent of grandparents who are not primary caregivers for their grandchildren provide daily child care services for their grandchildren, according to “Insights and Spending Habits of Modern Grandparents,” a national survey of grandparents age 50 and over by AARP.

Of grandparents who have taken care of their grandchildren, 93 percent said they thoroughly enjoyed it, according to the survey.

Swiers watches a 6-year-old grandson once in a while and cares for 19-month-old Jakoby Baker four days a week. His mom, Jill Baker, says there are a lot of advantages to having her mother care for her son.

Not only does he get a lot of one-on-one attention, but when he’s sick, he can still go to day care because he’s the only child there, she said.

Baker also knows Jakoby is being cared for by someone who holds the same values she does, she said.

“He gets lots of hugs and kisses and just loves cuddling with her, and all those emotional things that he’s getting would be vastly different in a traditional day care setting,” Baker said.

Swiers works with Jakoby on his speech, on which he is slightly behind, Baker said.

“She’s always trying to make sure his development is on track, too, which is really reassuring to know that since we can’t be there during the day somebody who loves him just as much as we do is working with him,” Baker said.

The downside is that even though Baker and her husband insist on paying Swiers for watching Jakoby during the day, they worry about taking advantage of her when they ask her to watch him occasionally at night, too, she said.

Swiers won’t let them pay her when she’s watching Jakoby any other time.

“My mother is a gem and a half and has been so wonderful and it’s worked out really, really well,” Baker said.

Grandfathers are also playing a greater role in raising their grandchildren and are more involved than previous generations, according to the AARP survey.

Grandfathers surveyed said they missed out on when their children were young and love to be part of their grandchildren’s lives and watch them grow.

The survey showed that 16 percent of grandfathers (the same proportion as grandmothers) provide child care for their grandchildren, and 30 percent said they have done so in the past.

Clyde Hughes of Wahpeton, N.D., watches his granddaughters, ages 2 and 4, two or three nights a week while their parents work a night shift.

Because child care facilities don’t typically cater to night workers, Hughes and the children’s other grandparents each watch them a few nights a week, he said.

“I feel the grandchildren benefit from close personal time with many different adults,” he said. “We don’t baby talk to them and we encourage them to use their voice. They learn a bit of independence and know there are other people who care for them they may trust and be safe with.”

Hughes said he likes watching them grow and develop and is amazed at how quickly they learn.

“I am definitely closer to them as a result of them spending more time with us than only at occasional family gatherings as was typical when I was growing up,” he said.

The AARP survey also shows that 11 percent of grandparents live with their grandchildren.

Patricia Anderson’s grandson, Brantley, and her daughter, Haven Anderson, both live with her, and she watches Brantley every afternoon while her daughter works.

“He has that security of the same people around him every day,” said Anderson. “When his mom comes home from work, she picks up where I leave off.”

Anderson, of Ada, Minn., has seven children of her own, five of whom live with her, and she did licensed child care for nine years, she said.

Her youngest child is 11, and she said she misses the younger stages. Being around Brantley gives her the opportunity to go through them again.

“He’s a lot like his mom when she was little,” Anderson said.

In addition to Anderson getting to know her grandson better than she would if she didn’t see him as often, Brantley is also developing a special relationship with his grandparents, aunts and uncles, Anderson said.

He loves playing with his 11-year-old aunt and the attention he gets from his teenaged uncles, Haven Anderson, Brantley’s mom said.

“I love him being able to be around that,” she said. “I didn’t have the relationship with my grandparents that he does with his.”

For Haven, leaving her son with her own mother for the day gives her peace of mind, she said.

“I know he’s safe and she has all her attention on him versus multiple children at day care,” she said. “I just feel more comfortable with her because she knows my child, she knows what I want for my child and she knows his routine.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526