Most grandparents maintain limited contact with their grandchildren -- a Christmas here, a weekend there -- especially when they live afar.
Not Cathy Boone.
She feeds, dresses and bathes her two grandchildren. When they fall ill, she leaves work to care for them, and when they wake from a nightmare, she's there for comfort.
Boone is among a growing population of grandparents in Arizona assuming the primary caretaker role.
To provide relief from the daily challenges of parenting, the Pinal-Gila Council For Senior Citizens hosts the Payson Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group on the second Thursday of every month at the Payson Senior Center.
"Grandparents have been overlooked as far as services and supports," said Janet Erickson, prevention specialist. "They're taking kids back and it's changing their lives. They'd rather take care of their grandkids than see them go into foster homes."
For the past 18 months, Boone and her husband have taken guardianship of their grandchildren, one of which isn't blood-related.
She's currently entangled in a custody battle with the mother of the children, and said the camaraderie some of the groups foster helps her feel less isolated.
"Where do you fit in anymore?" Boone said. "You have the young parents who do things together and then you have us, the older ones. But we don't fit in with (the young parents) and we don't fit in with people of our own age group."
More than 96,000 or 7 percent of Arizona children younger than 18 live in grandparent-headed households, according to the AARP. In nearly 60 percent of these cases, neither parent lives in the home.
Erickson encourages all grandparents to attend and share their experiences, particularly those raising their grandchildren. This month's meeting is from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, March 9 at the Payson Senior Center, 514 W. Main St. Call the center a day ahead to make a reservation. Participants are invited to eat lunch before the meeting. Lunch is $3 for adults; no charge for grandchildren. For more information, to make a reservation or to arrange a ride, please call the Payson Senior Center at (928) 474-4876.