Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Few Million US Grandmas Know What's Ahead for Katherine Jackson

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Few Million US Grandmas Know What's Ahead for Katherine Jackson

Article excerpt

Michael Jackson's mother, Katherine Jackson, raised nine children, but the last came of legal age when she was 54. Raising her late son's three children, ages 7 to 12, now, at age 79, would be another challenge unto itself, and it's one that nearly 3 million American families tackle - although they're not necessarily the families you might think they are.

"People's idea about grandparents and grandchildren living together was of an elderly African-American woman living in the inner city with no spouse present," says Kenneth Bryson, director of the National Center on Grandfamilies, in Washington. "That's actually very uncommon."

It's true that African-American children are more likely to live with grandparents than white children are, but of all grandparent households, fewer than one-third are African-American. More than 40 percent of grandparent households are white, according to the Census Bureau's most recent American Community Survey, and the remainder are other races and ethnicities.

White, black, or purple, the challenges confronting grandparents who, like Mrs. Jackson, unexpectedly find themselves with young children to raise can be daunting.

"Many ... are caring for their grandchildren on an emergency basis," says Mr. Bryson. As a result, they may find themselves suddenly looking for affordable housing that can accommodate extra children or that is child-proof.

The importance of custody

If grandparents do not have legal custody of the children, relatively simple procedures, such as enrolling them in school or making medical decisions can become much more difficult.

"We're talking about going to court," Bryson says, "and caregivers are reluctant to essentially challenge the right of the biological parent to have custody."

In the case of the three Jackson children, their father's will awarded full custody and control of his estate to Mrs. Jackson, often described as a deeply religious and quiet woman, who still lives in the family's California compound. A court has granted her temporary custody pending a hearing next week. (Debbie Rowe, mother of two of the children, has yet to say whether she will seek custody.)

While Mrs. …

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