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Grandparents Caring for and Teaching Grandchildren


Renee Fry (back) is pictured with her mother Pat Fry and son Liam Fry Hawker. Renee, who owns her own business, moved in with her parents during the pandemic. This way, Grandmother Pat, a retired science teacher, could oversee Liam's online schooling. (Renee Fry via AP)
Grandparents Caring for and Teaching Grandchildren
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From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

Retirement, if you plan well, is filled with leisure – time to do what you want when you want. That is why we call retirement the Golden Years. Retirees with grandchildren have the leisure to see them whenever they want.

That changed, however, with the coronavirus pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, health experts warned older adults to limit contact with children. No matter how much you love them, children are known for spreading germs. And older adults are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19.

Now, as the pandemic continues, the situation is changing again for some retired senior citizens.

In the United States, some grandparents are adding new activities in their Golden Years – activities like checking schoolwork, supervising study time, and creating educational games.

Why? For many families, school is also childcare for working parents. But most school buildings remain closed. Education is happening online and in the home.

As a result, many families are struggling to find childcare. More grandparents are now being asked to not only watch their grandchildren but also supervise their online learning.

Today we meet some of these families.

Will’s family (Grandparents Mary and Bill Hill)

Mary Hill is a 70-year-old retired nurse. Her husband Bill is a 72-year-old retired college sports administrator. They care for their grandson Will five days a week and supervise his distance learning. Will’s parents are both teachers who must report to school.

Mary and Bill Hill are pictured with their 8-year-old grandson Will in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. They oversee his distance learning. (Bill Hill via AP)
Mary and Bill Hill are pictured with their 8-year-old grandson Will in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. They oversee his distance learning. (Bill Hill via AP)

Grandmother Mary says she and her husband love to spend more time with their grandson. But, she says they are much busier than they were before the pandemic.

And, the situation is not always easy.

Grandparents are often accused of spoiling grandchildren – letting them eats lots of sweets and play all the time. For Mary, becoming a rule enforcer instead of just a fun grandmother for Will has been the hardest part.

Now she must make sure that Will obeys some “house rules,” such as reading and drinking milk every day. One new rule is designed to give the older people a break: Will must play by himself for an hour while his grandparents rest.

“It’s more work than I thought it was going to be,” Will’s grandfather said. “At 8 o’clock in the morning, you’ve got to be there, ready to roll.”

Evelyn’s family (Grandma Mary Pupko)

Retiree Mary Pupko was living in Seattle, Washington. She recently moved across the country to New York to be closer to her daughter Elisa’s family. This includes her nearly 3-year-old granddaughter, Evelyn.

Mary Pupko sits with her granddaughter Evelyn. Pupko, a 64-year-old retired seamstress with multiple sclerosis, moved to Brooklyn from Seattle to be closer to her family. (Elisa Pupko via AP)
Mary Pupko sits with her granddaughter Evelyn. Pupko, a 64-year-old retired seamstress with multiple sclerosis, moved to Brooklyn from Seattle to be closer to her family. (Elisa Pupko via AP)

The 64-year-old grandmother has the disease multiple sclerosis. So, the family was especially careful in avoiding COVID-19. For the first 10 weeks of lockdown, Elisa says, they did not see her mother. Mary lives in her own apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

Then Elisa realized that she needed help with childcare for her daughter, Evelyn. She also realized that her mother was alone in her apartment, and that the whole family missed one another.

So, Elisa bought a car and takes her mother back and forth for daily visits. While the child’s parents work from home, the grandmother cares for her granddaughter. She reads to Evelyn and plays games with her granddaughter in the morning.

Later the family members all share a meal. After eating, Evelyn has some “quiet time,” while Grandma takes a nap. Then, there is more fun until the workday comes to an end.

Liam’s family (Grandma Pat Fry)

Renee Fry and her husband took similar action to get help with their son, Liam. Renee owns an online business and operated it from her home in Massachusetts.

Pat Fry, a retired eighth-grade science teacher, manages her grandson's online schooling. (Photo: Renee Fry via AP)
Pat Fry, a retired eighth-grade science teacher, manages her grandson's online schooling. (Photo: Renee Fry via AP)

However, when the pandemic hit, she says she was not able to run her company and supervise her son’s education. So, Renee and her son moved hundreds of miles southwest to live with her mother and father in Pennsylvania.

Renee’s husband stayed in Massachusetts to continue his work. He travels back and forth for long weekends. When he is away from his family, he must take extra care to social distance. Renee’s elderly father, Liam’s grandfather, has Alzheimer’s and lives in the Pennsylvania home.

As a former science teacher, Grandmother Pat Fry is more than able to help. The 73-year-old says she always enjoyed teaching. And, she describes life with her grandson as a “blessing.”

Liam sees a big difference between studies with grandma and studies with mom.

“Mom tells me the answers. She doesn’t,” he says, pointing to his grandmother.

The role of grandparents in other cultures

Childcare experts say that in some cultures, caring for grandchildren is what most grandparents do. In Italy, for example, there is even a term for it: “nonni culture.”

Back in May, Reuters reported on World Bank research on grandparent childcare.

A young girl walks with her elderly grandparent along a tree-lined street in Rome, Italy, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo)
A young girl walks with her elderly grandparent along a tree-lined street in Rome, Italy, March 5, 2020. (AP Photo)

The research found that Italian grandparents spend on average 730 hours a year looking after their grandchildren. That is more time than found in other European countries. In Spain, for example, the finding was 576 hours. The hours drop to 360 in France and below 300 in Germany.

And that’s the Health & Lifestyle report.

I’m Anna Matteo. And I'm Mario Ritter.

Are grandparents involved in your family's childcare? Let us know in the Comments Section.

Anna Matteo adapted stories from the Associated Press and Reuters for this report. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Quiz - Grandparents Caring for (and Teaching) Grandchildren

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Words in This Story

leisure – n. time when you are not working : time when you can do whatever you want to do : enjoyable activities that you do when you are not working

grandchildren – n. the child of one's son or daughter

pandemic – n. medical : an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

senior citizen – n. an elderly person especially : one who has retired

spoil – v. disapproving : to give someone, such as a child everything that he or she wants : to have a bad effect on someone by allowing too many things or by not correcting bad behavior

ready to roll – idiom informal : ready to start doing something

lockdown – n. the confinement of people to their homes as a security measure

apartment – n. a usually rented room or set of rooms that is part of a building and is used as a place to live

elderly – adj. rather old especially : being past middle age

blessing – n. something that helps you or brings happiness

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