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Census figures indicate that more than five million grandparents in the United States act as primary caregivers to their grandchildren.

Can grandparents still have the fun of grandchildren around them while also shouldering the responsibilities of full-time parenting? Yes. Grandparents have a huge edge over natural parents because they've been there and done that!

So what's the downside? Lack of energy to keep up with demands is a frequent complaint among grandparents. The days start early and the nights without sleep can be long, especially with infants and toddlers. The solution is efficient time management, plain and simple. Here are some tips:

1. Rest when the kids do. Incorporate your domestic chores into the hours when the kids are active. Safe play areas and activities requiring minimal supervision can be organized for them. Often, they may want to pitch in and help with chores. The chores may take longer to complete, but the kids' participation replaces any aspects of drudgery with fun, learning opportunities, and chances to share. In other words, you get to be a grandparent.

2. Combine tasks and pleasures. When you take the little ones on a shopping trip, build in an hour at a playground. There you may get a chance to relax and they get a chance to run off some energy. Plus, the prospect of the playground tends to lessen acting up at the market.

3. Establish daily schedules. These are important for learning and nurturing. Just like a hug, structure provides a sense of security. No schedule need be carved in stone. Rather, its form may be that of a set of expectations created and then regularly satisfied. At night, for example, in sequence, you can use bath-story-potty-bed. The hour will vary sometimes but the activities, except in extraordinary circumstances, stay the same.

Where is a grandparent's pleasure in that? The bath is mostly for frolicking; the stories are always interactive; and the hug and kiss from the little one at day's end is a sure signal you're on the right track.

4. Schedule a weekly break. Twenty-four straight hours is best, but settle for twelve. To do this may mean trading babysitting with another caregiver. You need to catch your breath and smell the roses; and all of that requires an uninterrupted block of time. You'll be better for it, and so will the little ones.

Caregiving has changed as rapidly as most other social facets of our culture. In many respects, though, it's still very basic. Grandparents, alleged sometimes to be set in their ways, must be open to change. As for the basics, grandparents don't have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, and therefore can be much more adept at introducing the little ones to the world around them. That is where the real pleasure lies, and it's there every single day.

In many cultures, grandparents are depended upon to be primary caregivers to their grandchildren. This role is ambiguous but growing rapidly in our culture, often now expected but not so often respected.

Older folks are supposed to "play." Some do, but most don't. Many of those providing care to grandchildren do; and for them it is fun and challenging. It can also be an opportunity to apply the accumulated wisdom of their lives.