DETROIT — Kim Eggleston works the overnight shift at a Detroit-area rehab center Thursday through Sunday, and then she babysits for her grandson, 2-year-old Joseph Golden, full days Monday through Friday.
The former is to earn money; the latter, a labor of love.
In this case, the love of a grandmother for her “Joe-Joe," and also for her 26-year-old daughter, Jessica, who needs the help.
Eggleston, 55, of Sterling Heights, Mich., is part of the majority of grandparents in the U.S. who provide child care for free, taking care of their children’s children, according to a new study that crunched 10 years of survey data.
A separate study also released recently found a larger percentage of grandparents providing cash support.
Long done with diaper changes, swing sets and car pools, they’re now back in the sippy-cup stage, helping their financially strapped kids avoid onerous day-care expenses.
Sixty-one percent of grandparents babysat grandkids for at least a year between 1998 and 2008, and 70 percent of that group for two or more years, according to one of the studies from the University of Chicago study that used data compiled by the University of Michigan.
A separate MetLife Mature Market Institute study determined that 62 percent provided financial support to their grandchildren — $8,289 on average and primarily for investments and education. More than 40 percent of those surveyed said they gave the money because of the economic downturn.
Helping to make ends meet might be an outgrowth of the bad economy, but researchers cautioned that sometimes-vulnerable grandparents could be putting themselves at risk by taking on demanding child care and the extra financial responsibilities.
Sometimes the child-care responsibility is not voluntary and arises because of a family problem.
This “safety-net strategy is likely not without costs," the study concluded. “Lack of resources may increase the burdens they experience and erode the quality of child care."
Eggleston no longer watches Joseph’s sister, Lily Golden, 6, who’s now in school. But after class, she goes to her paternal grandmother’s house until the end of the workday.
“I’m a great mom, and I love my grandchildren. I don’t mind. They don’t have to pay a baby-sitter. A baby-sitter costs a lot," said Eggleston, whose daughter works in sales and whose son-in-law recently got a new job.
The Chicago researchers also found that grandmothers are 15 percent more likely than grandfathers to start baby-sitting their grandchildren and that married grandparents are 29 percent more likely to baby-sit than unmarried grandparents.
Grandparents taking care of grandchildren is most prevalent among African-American people (44 percent) and least prevalent among white people (33 percent).
From time to time, grandmother Cheryl Vallance has bought clothes and groceries for her daughter Lara McDonald’s two children, 7-year-old Brady and 3-year-old Elise. She has been baby-sitting since her 32-year-old daughter went back to school for a nursing degree. And now, after graduation, McDonald works as a nurse, and Grandma watches the children 24 to 30 hours a week.
“With her hours, it’s hard to find day care, and it was expensive. I started to help them out, and I love to be with the grandkids. I’m young and still like to do stuff," said the 63-year-old Isabella County resident, a retired Central Michigan University coordinator.
The MetLife study also found that 34 percent of grandparents who give money provide the support even though it’s putting their own finances at risk.
“Those grandparents are sacrificing their own financial situation in order to help their families," the study authors wrote.