BY O.J. EARLY
For 52-year-old Myrrh Raper, the days and nights seem to parallel her time as a young mother.
"A lot of times I find myself worn out, just completely exhausted," she said.
Raper is raising her grandson, one-year-old Eli, in her Mosheim apartment.
And like a growing number of other grandparents across the U.S., Raper will likely be the only parent figure her grandchild sees.
In 2011, one-in-10 children nationwide -- nearly 8 million -- lived with a grandparent, based on a September report by the Pew Research Center.
For about 3 million of those children, a grandparent was their primary caregiver.
Those numbers rose significantly during the Great Recession of the last few years, jumping in 2007 and stabilizing somewhat in 2009, the research center reported.
More than 70 percent of grandchildren living with a grandparent actually live in the grandparent's home, according to the report.
JUDGE BAILEY COMMENTS
The report's findings are no surprise to Greene County General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr.
"I have seen a tremendous rise in the number of grandparents, and even a few great-grandparents, who are raising their grandchildren," Bailey said in an interview with The Greeneville Sun.
"There are also many circumstances whereby the grandparent has joint custody of their grandchildren with the parent or parents," Bailey said.
Grandparents gaining custody of their grandchildren happens in several ways, he said.
Some grandparents file a petition against the parents, arguing that the parents can't properly care for their children.
Some children are abandoned by their parents, and have only a grandfather or grandmother left, the judge said.
"We have had grandparents on some occasions decline to take custody of their grandchildren, or they have taken custody, but later come to court and say they simply could not properly care for the grandchildren -- and I know that is a very tough decision for those grandparents," he said.
"I have watched them cry in court as they tell me that, due to health issues or other issues, they can't care for their grandchildren," the judge said.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) has the authority to remove a child from a home, Bailey explained.
DCS is required by law to locate the closest family resource before placing the child in a foster home, the judge added.
"I would estimate that we have five or six cases a week in juvenile court whereby grandparents are caring for, or have, custody of their grandchildren," Bailey said.
"We don't have current statistics, but I would say that 20 to 30 percent of all the kids we deal with in juvenile court (approximately 1,000 a year) are being cared for primarily by a grandparent," he said.
Raper has raised grandson Eli since he was born, bringing him home from the hospital last year.
Eli was a premature baby, born five weeks early.
He weighed less than five pounds, and had multiple breathing-related problems.
"He is kind of 'special needs,' but not like people think 'special needs,'" she said.
In short, much work goes into caring for young Eli.
"He's still not sleeping at night ... We still have pajama days," she said with a laugh.
Still, the Mosheim grandmother wouldn't change anything.
"I would do it again, but I would hope that I won't have to," said Raper. "I wouldn't change it for the world ... I am legally adopting him. He's all mine, so I guess I'm Mom again."