Keeping day care in the family

Published: Tuesday, January 25, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 24, 2005 at 10:00 p.m.
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Tessie Fernandez, rear, takes a walk with her grandchildren, Portia Herger, 4, and Danilo herger, 2, in Castro Valley, Calif.

Knight Ridder News
Sheila Herger's search for child care didn't take her very far. She ultimately decided there was no one better than her own mother.
"Having a family member taking care of your kids - I think it's a dream of all working moms," said Herger, a 34-year-old business architect for Adobe Systems in San Jose. Herger and her husband persuaded her mother, Tessie Fernandez, to watch their two youngest children during the day.
Herger relied on a day-care center when her oldest two children were young. Now, with her mother on the job, she says, "When I leave for work every day, I don't have to worry or wonder."
It's an arrangement that more and more U.S. families are turning to, reasoning that grandparents are experienced, flexible and loving - and often inexpensive - day-care providers.
Grandparents have emerged as the leading source of child care for preschoolers who are in any type of child-care arrangement, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1997, 21 percent of preschoolers were cared for by their grandparents while their parents worked or went to school. The U.S. Department of Education also has found a steady increase in the percentage of 3- to 5-year-olds being cared for by relatives: 16.9 percent in 1991, 19.4 percent in 1995 and 22.8 percent in 2001.
"The next-best thing to you is your mom, right?" said Linda Murray, executive editor of BabyCenter, a San Francisco-based Web site for new and expectant parents.
Minimal costs With the average annual cost for child care for an infant on the rise (in Santa Clara County, Calif., it's now approaching $13,000 a year), it shouldn't be too surprising, experts say, that the concept of the "granny nanny" or "granddaddy day care" is experiencing such a surge in popularity.
Many families simply cannot afford for one parent to stay at home with their children. But some can't afford commercial child care either. With family members providing the care, costs are usually minimal - if there are any. Just 15 percent of grandparents who watched their grandchildren in 1997 were paid, the Census Bureau found. For those who did receive money, the payments averaged $40 a week.
While many working families tend to view a relative as the best person to care for their children, there's no mistaking that their decision is often economic, said Yasmine Daniel, director of early childhood development for the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, D.C.
And so it is that long after their own children have left the nest, many baby boomers are finding themselves partially responsible for raising a new generation of children. Hayward, Calif., resident Marie Roberts said she wouldn't have it any other way.
When she learned that her daughter Carla Marino was pregnant, Roberts volunteered to provide free day care once Marino went back to work.
Roberts, 57, said she didn't "want to trust anybody else but family to watch the baby." So she retired from her part-time job with a local school district and took on the full-time responsibility of watching the blue-eyed baby girl.
"I don't consider that work," Roberts said. "That's fun."
So from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, Roberts regales 6-month-old Lauren with songs, stories and stroller rides until her parents come by to pick her up.
Not for everyone While the system is working for Roberts and her family, the same can't be said for everyone who has turned to relative care.
The situation can be stressful for all involved if there are disagreements over how to rear or discipline a child, experts say. And many couples find it hard to tell a parent they would like their child bathed or fed in a different manner.
Grandparents, for their part, may feel taken advantage of if they aren't told "thank you" or that they're appreciated often enough. And running around after a little one can be tiring to some in their golden years.
Parents and grandparents alike may feel that they don't have as much privacy as they used to now that they're in such close and constant contact with their family members.
"It can be real tricky," said BabyCenter's Murray. "It's sort of an employee/employer relationship, which is a tricky thing to enter into with a family member."
Jerry and Lee Anna Jensen know that. They've taken turns caring for two of their grandchildren in the past few years.
But Jerry Jensen, whose own grandfather watched him when he was growing up, thinks it is the job of families to "rise to the occasion," providing day care if they can swing it.
Which is why the Jensens are daring to do what many others might not: watch three infant grandchildren at their Salt Lake City home come mid-December.
Twins Greta and Leah were born in September, and granddaughter Delaney followed them just three weeks later.
The Jensens have been busy stocking their home with cribs and diapers and laughing off any suggestion that they may be crazy. And payment? Don't be ridiculous, the Jensens said. Their services are a labor of love.
"I get payback," said Jensen, and it comes in the form of hugs and sheer pride. That, he said, "is one of the most satisfying experiences that a person can have."

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