At 60 years old, Bess Ramsey is not finding parenting easier the second time around. But when her daughter became addicted to drugs, and her grandsons were sent to a foster home, Ramsey felt it was her duty as a grandmother to step in.
"To raise children over again was not anything that I had planned, I can tell you that," Ramsey says. Nevertheless, she bought a bigger home, got help from social services and became primary caregiver to the two boys.
Ramsey explains she took on the responsibility out of love. "Because I love them. They're my grandchildren and I was with them most of the time even when they were with a foster parent."
Ramsey is not alone. Last year, four million children lived in households headed by grandparents. And that number is going up every year.
The reasons range from substance abuse by the parents, child abuse, crime, divorce, or illness. Whatever the reason, the grandparents are filling a vital role, even though, for many, it's taking a toll.
Ramsey explains. "It takes a lot of strength to truthfully take children and act as if you're concerned about them and really raise them the best that you can. It takes a lot."
Family therapist Dianne Ochetti often counsels grandparents like Ramsey.
Ochetti says they come to her with financial concerns, legal problems and health issues. Her advice? Develop a network of support.
She encourages grandparents to "find out if there are other people that are close by that are sharing this experience with you. There can be nothing like that kind of support."
Ochetti says a support network can also provide respite care to give the grandparents a break to take care of themselves.
Health is an important issue because these older adults need to maintain their health in order to be able to help their grandchildren.
Bob Jackson, a spokesman for theAmerican Association of Retired Persons, says "that's another major message that we want to impart with grandparents -- you've got to take care of yourself."
The AARP has a grandparent information center, designed to help grandparents find the resources they need.
As for Bess Ramsey, she just retired after 28 years so she can be with her grandsons as they graduate from high school.
"I think I'll be rewarded to know that I made a difference," Ramsey says.
Grandparents who would like more information on available resources can call theNorth Carolina AARPor the Grandparent Information Center at 202-434-2296.