LONGMONT — In the same day, Launie Gruber of Longmont has to tackle potty training a 3-year-old, decide whether to let a teen borrow the car, and oversee homework assignments from three St. Vrain Valley students living under her roof.
These are not the usual tasks of a “retired” homemaker and grandmother.
But, Gruber, who cares for four children full-time, said, “I’m called Grandma one minute and Mom the next,” she said.
Gruber is not alone.
It’s evident by three area support groups for grandparents forgoing their golden years to raise grandchildren.
The 2000 U.S. Census Bureau reported that 2.4 million grandparents claimed they are responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren.
It was the first time the census asked grandparents if, for whatever reason, they were responsible for the basic needs of their grandchildren.
“It’s a different phenomenon. It’s not new. It’s decades old, but (the numbers) have quantified it,” said Sandy Hollingsworth, a resource specialist with the West Boulder Senior Center.
Grandparents step into the caretaker role when their child cannot or will not take on the parenting role, she said.
Hollingsworth cited reasons such as drug or alcohol problems, incarceration, military duty or lack of parenting skills. Other grandparents provide full-time day care for grandchildren while the parents work.
In Boulder County, 1,031 grandparents reported living in a household with one or more grandchildren under the age of 18. The city of Longmont constitutes roughly half that number.
The West Boulder Senior Center has begun to offer a monthly support group for Grandparents Raising Grandkids, one of three in the area. There are monthly groups also offered in Longmont and Louisville.
Gruber, 60, has attended the Longmont group since it began about two years ago.
She and her husband, Jim, are the legal guardians of two granddaughters, ages 16 and 13, and a 3-year-old son of one of the couple’s adult foster children.
The Grubers also care for a foster daughter, 11, and provide part-time care for two other grandchildren.
“With all the kids in the house, sometimes I feel like I’m Mom or Grandma to half the kids in this county,” Gruber joked.
But Gruber said she and her husband don’t feel like they have missed out on their golden years by caring for a second generation of children. Gruber said she started caring for her teen grand-daughters when they were just babies, just as her youngest daughter left the house.
“We never got that empty nest period, which is maybe why it’s been easier on us,” Gruber said.
Marlene MacDougall, 66, of Longmont and her husband, Michael, have been the legal guardians of two grandchildren, ages 15 and 13, since they were toddlers.
“It keeps us young,” said Marlene MacDougall, a retired baker. “But there are a lot of responsibilities that go along with it when you are older.”
Peer counselor Auguste Bussian-Watts said support groups allow grandparents to swap advice and resources to navigate through education, legal and health systems.
“These grandparents have to deal with the parents and these vague boundaries over the grandchildren,” she said.
The support groups provide child care, refreshments and occasional guest speakers. For example, grandparents at the Longmont meeting last month had guest speakers on how to address the topic of sex with grandchildren, especially teenagers.
The support groups provide a network of information, from which doctors accept Medicaid to slang terms, the grandparents said.
Said Donna Lay, a grandmother who now works as a peer counselor for the Louisville and Boulder groups: “We want (grandparents) to realize they are not alone. They can talk with other people and vent their frustrations and their joys.”
Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at