To Grandmother's House We Go

Carol Cordello works full-time as a teacher. But instead of lugging her 6-year-old son, Matthew, across town each morning for a tearful good-bye at a day-care center, she throws him a kiss as she walks out the door. She doesn’t worry about whether Matthew is being nurtured and loved or about whether he’s getting enough attention or having fun. She knows that he’s receiving all of these things, and much more.

No, Cordello isn’t paying big bucks for a professional, live-in nanny. Matthew’s day-care provider is "Grandpa Charlie," Cordello’s father. Matthew’s grandfather and grandmother have been his sole day-care providers since Matthew was born. His grandmother passed away last December, but Grandpa Charlie continues to care for Matthew.

The Cordellos live on the upper floor of a two-family house which they purchased with Matthew’s grandparents in 1996. The grandparents moved into the first floor apartment shortly after Matthew was born, specifically to provide care for him. No money has ever changed hands.

The grandparents’ decision to help out with their only grandchild, "was completely voluntarily, never paid," Cordello says. "It has worked out so well."

This family is part of "an increasing phenomenon," according to Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, the founder and president of The Foundation for Grandparenting, a national organization that advocates for and supports grandparents. Kornhaber attributes the growth in these arrangements to a greater need among parents, with more mothers working, and grandparents being more available, as well as living longer.

According to the 1999 AARP Grandparenting Survey, 8 percent of grandparents over the age of 50 are providing regular noncustodial child care to their grandchildren. The AARP survey indicates that the caregivers are often younger grandparents, in the 50-59 age range. In the typical situation, the grandparents accept no pay, says Kornhaber. Some grandparents live in the same house as the grandchildren; others a few miles away.

Grandparents providing day care for their grandchildren is a "win-win-win for all generations involved," says Kornhaber. "It’s good for the kids because they feel secure and loved and it’s good for the grandparents because it gives them more meaning in life."

Myra Carlow is an example of a "typical" caregiver. The 61-year-old grandmother provided part-time care for her two grandsons for almost two years until she and her husband moved.

Like the Cordellos, Carlow and her husband shared a two-family home with her daughter’s family and payment -- hugs, kisses and memories -- was of the non-negotiable variety. "It was a great situation," she says. "I’ll never regret having done it."

Trish Donegan relied upon both her mother and her mother-in-law to care for her two daughters until she quit her full-time job recently to stay home with her girls. Donegan’s mother watched the girls two days a week, her mother-in-law took over one day each week and the girls went to a day-care center the other two days.

"It was the only way I could ‘afford’ to work, paying for only two days of day care," she says. "We were lucky to have been able to do this."