Tampa, Fla. Before Freddie and Edna Myles could get their own seven children reared and out of the house, the couple started taking in their grandchildren.
Those "grands" otherwise would have gone to foster homes because they were neglected by their own parents, who succumbed to drug addiction or ended up in jail. The couple have five "grands" now -- ages 8 to 21 -- living under the roof of their modest two-bedroom home.
The three boys share a bedroom, while a pullout couch in the family room doubles as sleeping quarters for the two girls. Freddie, 72, still works some in lawn maintenance. With three of the children still in school, Edna, 61, makes sure they are fed, get out of the house on time and finish their homework.
The rewards are plentiful, but often the challenges are overwhelming. Twice a month, Edna Myles looks forward to sitting down to talk with others who understand.
In a support group organized by the Florida Kinship Center at the University of South Florida, Myles and other family caregivers are able to talk through difficulties, share triumphs and generally help keep each other sane.
"Sometimes you think you're the only one going through something like this," Myles said. "But when we talk about what's going on with our grandkids, there's always someone out there who can listen to your opinion and listen to what you did. There are a lot of parents and grandparents going through the same things."
In this country, 2.3 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren.
Watching the number of family caregivers grow prompted the university's social work professors Aaron Smith and Anne Strozier to start the nonprofit center in 1998. It provides services and support, acts as a clearinghouse for information and helps raise the political profile of caregivers.
"They do so much sacrificing of themselves for others," Smith said. "We're concerned about their quality of life, their survivability. Because without them, where would these children be?"
Older grandparents can sometimes be overwhelmed by the challenges of child-rearing when there are so many more outside influences competing for their attention.
"It's just really a relief to have someone to help you through that," Myles said.