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Successful Aging: The facts behind grandparents taking care of their grandkids

Question: My wife and I are in our mid-60s and planned to retire in a few years. We’ve both worked hard all of our lives and looked forward to retirement so we could do what we wanted to do. We now have full custody of our two grandchildren, 8 and 11, whom we love. The tough part is managing our energy, time, money and the small business we own as well as giving up plans for our future. How do we deal with this in the best way?

— L.J.

Answer: Dear L.J.,

We admire and respect you for assuming such a profound responsibility.

Clearly family has emerged as a single priority. Your situation is challenging and part of a national increasing trend.

Let’s look at a few numbers. According to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, California has the highest number of grandparents caring for grandchildren in the nation. That translates to more than 650,000 grandparents, or more than 5 percent of all households in California. And more than 626,000 children are living in a grandparent-headed household, almost 7 percent of all children under 18 in our state.

The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is 2.7 million nationally. And 4.9 million American children are being raised by their grandparents, which is 7 percent of all children 18 and younger according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. The number is almost double that of the 2000 census of 2.4 million.

You may ask why so many? Generations United, a national membership organization that promotes inter-generational programs and policies, found parental abuse of drugs and alcohol, child abuse, teenage pregnancy and HIV/AIDS as reasons.

Others include parents’ unemployment, divorce, mental health problems, family violence, poverty and incarceration. Drugs and alcohol are the most prevalent. Unfortunately, few of these causes are diminishing.

We’ve learned a lot about grandparents in the U.S. Test your knowledge about the facts with this short true-false quiz:


1. The average age of becoming a grandparent is 60 years.

2. Grandparents control over half of the nation’s wealth.

3. There currently are about 70,000,000 grandparents.

4. Over half of grandparents do not have a mortgage.

5. Grandparents spend $54.5 billion annually on their grandchildren.

6. About 10 percent of grandparents spend money on their grandchildren’s education.

7. Twenty percent of grandparents provide day care for their grandchildren.

8. The majority of grandparents cannot afford to spend as much as they would like on their grandchildren.

9. Fifty percent of grandparents raising grandchildren bake cookies for their family.


1. False. The average age of becoming a grandparent is 50 years for women and a couple of years older for men with a range from 30 to 110 years.

2. True. grandparents are considered one of the most powerful and underestimated drivers of the U.S. economy, controlling 75 percent of the wealth according to the American Grandparents Association.

3. True. Their number is increasing at more than double the rate of the overall population.

4. True. That’s actually 55 percent who do not carry a mortgage, which places many grandparents in a good economic position.

5. True. That comes to $149.4 million a day spent on gifts, gift cards, school supplies, entertainment and travel and financial investments.

6. False. Fifty-three percent of grandparents spend money on their grandchildren’s education.

7. False. Over 70 percent take care of their grandchildren on a regular basis.

8. True. This is based on a study by Dennis H. Tootelian and Sanjay B. Varsheny at Cal State Sacramento. It seems that grandparents will always want to do more for their grandchildren.

9. True. Home baked cookies remain special.

L.J., grandparents raising grandchildren are among the unsung heroes of society and you both are among them.

Next week, we’ll discuss some resources, tips and several famous and accomplished folks who were raised by grandparents. In the meantime, here is a new South Bay resource for grandparents raising grandchildren that had its first meeting on Oct. 27 at the Manhattan Beach Community Center. For more information, contact Lesley Silverstone at

Send emails to Helen Dennis at helendenn@gmail, or go to

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