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On Location: ZERO TO THREE’s “The Grand Plan” Grandparent Films

Kathy Kinsner, Senior Manager, Parenting Resources

Grandparents are modern-day superheroes! They fill a huge child care gap in the U.S.—stepping in when other options are unavailable or unaffordable, or just because they see a need and want to help fill it. One out of four children under 5 years old is looked after by a grandparent while a parent works or goes to school.

Earlier this year, the Parenting Resources department set out to create a series of films that would make the role of grandparents more visible—to shine a spotlight on the joys and challenges of sharing the care between generations. Along with our other grandparenting resources, these films are available here for viewing. This is the story of how they were made.

The Beginning Everybody has a story to tell. That’s what I learned in more than a decade working in television production, most notably on the PBS series Reading Rainbow. So, when I was asked to take the lead on a series of short films featuring grandparents who share the responsibility of child care in their families, I was genuinely thrilled. Complete strangers willing to tell us their life stories! I couldn’t wait to get started.

Wander-ing Together I was also excited to learn that Wander Films, with principal Aaron Weber, had been selected as ZERO TO THREE’s production partner for these short films. We’d worked successfully on other projects with Aaron, and I knew that he was a good listener who would help us turn compelling ideas into compelling visuals. We agreed that I’d find potential families to be included in the video, real people telling their own stories, and that together, we would identify finalists. There are 4.8 million infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in this country who are looked after by grandparents—a huge pool of potential families! How hard could it be to find those willing to tell their singular stories?

Research in the Age of the Internet In decades past, the answer might have been “pretty hard.” Story research involved a painstaking chain of personal contacts, phone calls that led to more phone calls until you found the person with a story to share. It’s easy to find anything now with the Internet, right? Well, right and wrong. We planned to film in Los Angeles, and I had websites full of listings for local Head Starts, YMCAs, Mommy and Me programs. In ZERO TO THREE’s west coast office, Christina Nigrelli sent an email to hundreds of early childhood educators. It took a while to generate momentum in referrals of interested grandparents and families. The last step in the process turned out to be the same across decades—finding a friendly person willing to help with a name and a story.

Finding Our Stories Ultimately, we ended up with a list of more than two dozen families to be interviewed. I talked to moms and grandmas, as well as a dad and a grandpa or two. Some stories were incredibly compelling but didn’t meet our goal of illustrating the “everyday ordinariness” of shared child care: the young mom overwhelmed by student debt and too burdened to make it on her own, the mom whose partner was incarcerated 3 months after their child was conceived, the grandmother who cared for her grandchild 90 hours a week so her daughter could finish her medical residency.

Of course, “everyday ordinariness” can and does look very different in different families. This was especially clear after a pair of back-to-back interviews. The first family had two sets of extraordinarily involved grandparents who organized many activities for their shared grandchild, a toddler they described as “nourished with love.” The second family shared a small apartment, and the grandfather characterized his contribution as “changing diapers, cleaning up vomit, and watching King Kong every day.” Each conversation evoked the joys and struggles of caring for young children, each family took a distinct path to engaging the assistance of a grandparent, and each family loved their youngest members beyond words.

Ultimately the selection process was multistep, beginning with a phone interview with me, a video chat interview to gauge how comfortable the families were on screen, and then a 1-day video shoot with each family. Once on location, we interviewed each family member and documented their daily routines on camera. Our work then became selecting and ordering footage to tell each family’s distinct story, capturing their relationships, their personalities, and the way they “shared the care.” The editing part of the process always reminds me of creating a sculpture—you have to carve away a little here and add a little there until you arrive at a satisfying finished product.

We hope you enjoy the final results as much as we do and encourage you to take a look (and share!) the three family stories here. Consider tagging your share with our hashtag #GrandparentsCare.

Special Thanks Thanks to the Coria family, the Gamboa family, and Althea Sachs and her daughter Mollie for sharing their stories. And a special shout-out to Christine Tran at First 5 LA and Brenda Sandoval at St. Anne’s Head Start for leading us to two of the families, and to ZERO TO THREE staff member Vera Alsova for posting the Facebook ad that led to the third.

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