Mattie Speight, 83, is raising her great-granddaughter, Ladaja, and she doesn’t mind one bit.
“It’s great. She’s a lot of company for me,” Speight said of the 4-year-old. “I think I’m blessed to be well enough to do it.” Ladaja is Speight’s daughter Darlene’s granddaughter.
According to numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 5 million children under the age of 18 live in grandparent-headed households. This represents an increase of about 400,000 children since the beginning of the decade, according to a Generations United news release.
The data analyzed were taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2005-2009 American Community Survey’s five-year estimates.
Generations United is an organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth, children and older people “through intergenerational strategies, program and public policies,” according to the release.
“We see more and more grandparents bringing their grandchildren in for services at the health department, “said Deidre Howell, Liberty County Health Department administrator. “What has traditionally been a parents’ role — bringing their kids in for shots or to pick up WIC vouchers — now seems to be it’s as common to see the grandparents bringing the children in.”
Speight first battled colon cancer in 2003, fighting it with radiation and chemotherapy treatments until the cancer returned in 2008.
She insists her great-granddaughter is the reason she fought her cancer into remission the second time around. Although Speight’s time with Ladaja has been on and off because of her illness, she intends to keep her great-grandchild as long as her health and Ladaja’s parents will allow.
“I’m doing so much better,” she said. “I’m just glad I’ve got the health and the strength. It don’t bother me none.”
Speight, who has eight children of her own, said she still does her own cooking and cleaning, all while watching Ladaja grow up a little more each day.
Although Speight doesn’t often ask for help, she receives assistance from close family members and friends who understand the battles she’s faced.
In 1968, Speight’s husband died and she raised all her children, a task she thinks she successfully took on, leaving her with enough knowledge and experience to take care of Ladaja.
“She doesn’t worry me, because I’m used to it,” she said.
Speight’s son, Harold Speight, who lives nearby, comes over to help with the “heavy lifting” and assists his mother with things she cannot do around the house.
Her ex-daughter-in-law, Irene Myers, often brings gifts and food over to the house for the 83-year-old, who lives on Social Security but donates all of her time, money and energy to her great-grandchild.
“They’re always doing something together. She’s got such a spirit and no one’s a stranger,” Myers said of Speight. “I feel God brought them two together.”
Family is Speight’s favorite topic of discussion, especially when guests look at the photos decorating every wall in her home.
She points them out, including pictures of Ladaja’s father, who she said is studying in Atlanta to be a phlebotomist, which is why he can’t take Ladaja yet.
“A lot of kids are having kids too young and jobs are hard to find. That’s why a lot of grandparents have to see about their [grand] kids,” Speight said. “Long as I can and have to, [I’ll take care of her]. I’m glad I got her.”