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Grandparents take up parenthood again

Becky Plane thought her days of schlepping a toddler through the grocery store were done.

John Plane thought he was looking at free weekends of camping and boating at the coast.

As it turns out, the Medford couple thought wrong.

These days, Becky Plane, 44, rarely enters a store without a preschooler or a toddler in tow.

John Plane, 47, spends more time at playgrounds than campgrounds.

And the boat?

It's only been in the water once in four years, Becky Plane says.

That's how long it's been since the Planes began caring full-time for their granddaughter, Alexa-Lynn.

Two years later, she was joined by their grandson, Kilian, now 18 months.

Their parents say, 'Would you take care of them for a few days?' says Becky Plane. And then they never come back.

The Planes are part of a burgeoning trend: grandparents raising grandchildren. Figures from the 2000 U.S. Census show that nationwide, some 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for grandchildren under age 18.

In Oregon, that figure tops 22,000, with 1,060 grandparents raising grandchildren in Jackson County alone.

Drug use, mental illness, death and abandonment are the most common reasons grandparents wind up with grandkids, says Kaaren Borsting, an Ashland counselor who led support groups for years.

For the Planes and others, tackling a second round of parenthood raises a host of issues, Borsting says.

To make that commitment again, it's huge, she says.

Dashed retirement dreams and disappointment with their grown children mingle with financial worries and physical exhaustion, Borsting says.

Obviously, they have their own health issues and there's just how darn tired you get caring for young kids.

For the Planes, there was no question that they would raise Alexa-Lynn and Kilian, who are their son's children by two different women. Drug use, depression and other ailments have kept Chris Plane, 23, from caring for his kids.

If we hadn't adopted her, she'd be in outside care, says Becky Plane.

You do it because you need to, adds John Plane.

That's a sentiment echoed by Mary Bakewell of Medford, who has raised her grandson, Ethan, now 2, since he was six months old. Her 18-year-old daughter, Angie, abandoned the baby.

The reality of 20 years of diapers and daycare hit her and she left, says Bakewell, 50. They were living with me, so there wasn't really much choice.

The physical demands of parenting are exhausting, says Bakewell, who adds: I'm wearing out my tennis shoes keeping up with him.

They're exacerbated by the financial demands: diapers, carseats, a bigger car.

The Planes, who run a preschool, and Bakewell, who works as a hospital transcriptionist, say the financial drain has pushed them to the point of ruin.

Add to that the legal issues that frequently complicate grandparent custody cases. Bakewell's daughter, for instance, insists that she'll return from South Dakota someday.

She tells me that she's going to come back and be a mom and take Ethan, Bakewell says. And when she does, I'm going to fight her like you won't believe.

As it stands, however, Angie Bakewell retains legal custody of her son; her mother is his guardian. The Planes have adopted Alexa-Lynn and been named guardians for Kilian.

Interwoven with the legal and practical concerns is the emotional impact of a situation that John Plane says wracked the family.

They're dealing with the loss of their own child and the responsibility of this child at a time in their lives when they would be retired, explains Jean Fyfe, who leads a support group for grandparents called Off Our Rockers.

Run by Community Works of Medford, the group offers grandparents a place to air their frustrations and gain solace from the experiences of others. Bakewell, who attends the group, agrees.

They're very good to talk to and it's nice to know you're not alone, she says.

Despite the difficulties, there are many things the grandparents relish about their new roles.

John Plane beams as he pushes Alexa-Lynn on playground swings, sending her ponytails flying.

Watch out, Papa! she yells, giggling.

Mary Bakewell says she's more patient now than she was when her daughter was a child. She delights in Ethan's bubbly, outgoing personality.

Before the neighbors leave, he runs over to get a hug, she says. Still, I had pictured myself on a Greek island, not with a baby in diapers.

Just why so many grandparents are raising grandchildren perplexes Becky Plane. She wonders whether it's because grandparents are so willing to take on the task, or if it's simply tougher for young families to make it without help.

We told our son two's our limit; we're not taking a third one, Becky Plane says. Although I don't know what we'd would do if it happened.

For information about grandparent support groups, call Community Works, 779-2393, extension 316.

Becky Plane holds her grandson, Kilian, 18 months, while Alexa-Lynn gets a push from granddad, John Plane. The Planes are raising their son?s children. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman