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When Grandparents Help Hold It All Together

Agreed. I feel lucky to live nearby enough to nurture a close relationship with Bartola and to backstop her harried working parents.

Still, these arrangements — leaving aside those heroes actually raising their grandchildren — differ from the way we’ve typically pictured grandparenthood.

“There’s this stereotype: Ice cream! Fun trips to the zoo!” said Jennifer Utrata, a sociologist at the University of Puget Sound who’s researching intensive grandparenting. “But there’s all this invisible labor behind the scenes.”

How much? Hard to pinpoint, but a recent study reports that about half of young children, a third of those in elementary school and even 20 percent of teenagers spend at least some time with grandparents in a typical week.

Madonna Harrington Meyer, a sociologist at Syracuse University and author of “Grandmothers at Work,” analyzed federal data for grandparents aged 51 to 70 who had jobs, most working full-time. About 45 percent had provided care for grandchildren during the previous two years, a proportion she expects to increase.

In part, this pattern reflects the changing expectations of parenting itself.

“My mom told the seven of us to go outside and play,” Dr. Harrington Meyer recalled. “Today’s mom says, ‘Get in the van and I’ll drive you from Spanish camp to violin lessons.’ The idea is to cultivate your child, give them every possible advantage, and it clearly spills over to the intensification of grandparenting.”

This helps explain why Kristi Denton Cohen, 67, and her husband, Tom Cohen, 72, who ferry four grandkids around Marin County, Calif., for after-school activities, jokingly refer to themselves as Grandma Lyft and Grandpa Uber.

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