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Grandparents providing more care for grandkids

| Saturday, May 18, 2013, 11:54 a.m.
ADVANCE FOR SATURDAY, MAY 18 - Brynn Elicker, 2, of West York, puts a puzzle piece on her grandfather, Rich Funke, as her cousin Rylan DeNunzio, 1, of Palmyra, and grandmother Kelly Funke play at the Funke's home in Dover Township Thursday, May 9, 2013. Rylan was spending a week with his grandparents while his parents were away, and Brynn was being babysat while her mom worked. (AP Photo/York Daily Record, Kate Penn) YORK DISPATCH OUT

YORK — When Heather Robinson, a single mom, was severely injured in a car crash in November 2010, her parents took care of her 13-month-old son, Christian. Without their help, she said, she would have had to put him up for adoption.

“They 100 percent took care of me and my son,” Robinson said.

Betsy Robinson, 68, and her husband, Russell, 69, cared for their daughter and grandson for about two years in their Lower Chanceford Township home.

“I can't imagine not doing that,” said Betsy.

Their time together forged a special bond. Even though Heather and Christian now live in Alexandria, Va., they visit at least every other week.

“I miss him,” Russell said.

While the Robinsons' situation was partly fueled by need, more and more grandparents are getting involved in their grandchildren's lives. And their involvement extends beyond the holidays and usual family functions.

In fact, today's grandparents provide more care, money and advice to grandchildren than they ever have, according to a 2012 AARP survey of 1,904 grandparents.

Becky Gillan, AARP senior vice president of research and strategic analysis, said in some cases, grandparents are assuming the role of primary caregivers.

“It's not just taking the grandkids to their grandparents' place for Sunday brunch anymore,” she said. “Grandparents are actively involved on a daily basis. They are involved financially — helping with medical, education, dental expenses.”

Gillan said grandparents indicate that it's important for them to spend money on and even spoil their grandchildren.

“During the recession, the one thing grandparents didn't cut back on was their grandkids,” Gillan said.

Jean Koppen, director and research fellow with AARP, said research also showed that Grandpa is more involved than he ever was in playtime with the grandkids.

“The boomers have grown up in a culture where there is less of a gender role,” Koppen said. “Grandpa missed out when his children were young, but he is not going to lose this second chance.”

Grandparents are making grandchildren more of a priority and sharing responsibilities with parents.

They provide day care and want grandchildren to stay close: More than one in 10 grandparents surveyed said they provide day care services while parents are working. Also, about seven in 10 grandparents live within 50 miles of their closest grandchildren. More than one-third of the grandparents surveyed indicated that their grandchildren had lived with them for more than five years.

Kelly Funke, 48, baby-sits both of her grandchildren, Brynn Elicker, 2, and Rylan DeNunzio, 1. She baby-sits Brynn three days a week, and Rylan whenever his parents are out of town.

Baby-sitting is such a priority for Funke, she sometimes takes vacation time from work to do it.

“I say all of this with a smile,” Funke said. “I'm glad that I'm able to do that.”

She never wants her grandchildren to move away, because she said she loves seeing them weekly.

“I absolutely want them to stay close,” Funke said. “I thought when my daughter moved to Palmyra, it was the end of the world.”

Brynn lives 10 minutes away and Rylan lives an hour away.

Some grandparents go one step further and offer their home to their grandkids, like Mark Foreman of Dover Township did.

When Foreman's stepson fell on hard times, Foreman took him in — along with his stepson's 6-year-old son Michael Hagarman, his stepson's fiancee and her two children.

Because Foreman, who works as a contractor with the government, travels a lot for work, Foreman told his stepson that he could stay at his place for as long as he needed.

“They have the run of the place,” Foreman, 56, said. “I help them out if they need anything.”

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