Living 50 Plus

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Caring for grandchildren

In the not-so-distant past, it was quite common for various generations of a single family to live under one roof and for many different members of the family to play a role in raising the children.

But that dynamic slowly changed as families spread out geographically. However, when the economy faltered and parents of young children realized they needed help, many returned to the old way of doing things. Grandparents stepped up to look after their grandkids, and adults moved back home with their aging parents. Some seniors needed to move in with their children to make ends meet.

A study of data from the Rand Corporation found that, of the four million children living with their grandparents in the United States, 2.5 million live in three-generation households. Nearly 1.5 million live in split-generation households or ones in which grandparents are raising their grandchildren. The proportion of all grandchildren living in three-generation households, 3.6 percent, has been steady in recent years.

Research suggests that split-generation households are usually formed when parents are no longer able to take care of their children because of physical or mental illness, substance abuse, or economic problems. Three-generation households, on the other hand, are generally formed because of problems parents encounter living independently, such as through separation or divorce or due to unemployment or economic need.

Caring for their grandchildren can elicit many feelings in grandparents, from nervousness to excitement about a fresh face around the house. Raising grandkids can be overwhelming for elderly men and women, but the following are a few tips that can make the process easier.

• Explore your feelings. When you acknowledge your feelings, you are on the right path to making things work and recognizing possible obstacles.

• Expect mixed feelings from others. Grandchildren and your own children also may be apprehensive about this new living situation. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and come to a consensus on how things will be done. Expect it to take some time to establish a schedule, and don't be discouraged by any initial behavioral problems.

• Take care of yourself. Grandchildren, particularly young ones, can have a lot of energy and may require constant attention. Caring for such lively youngsters can be taxing on grandparents, who must make their own health and nutrition a priority. Give yourself some time for recreation and rest. Have grandchildren help out where they can. Don't feel you have to spend every moment entertaining them.

• Ask for help when needed. Reach out to friends or community members if you are feeling overwhelmed. There are a number of resources available to you, and many organizations, including AARP, have their own tips for assisting three-generation households.

Multi-generational households are common once again. Families who work together can make the most of such living arrangements.