June 13, 2011 -- Cooking, cleaning, taking care of the kids -- once upon a time, grandmothers were around to help with those sorts of things.
But if the grandmothers in your family are either not around or too busy with their own lives, you can now rent a grandmother for a day, or longer, through a company called Rent-a-Grandma.
Rent-a-Grandma currently employs about 50 "grannies" throughout Los Angeles County to serve as nannies, maintenance staff, pet sitters, chefs, personal assistants and more. Although they do not have to be actual grandmothers, they must be older than 50. Founder and CEO Todd Pliss started the company in August 2010, and is now venturing into the national arena, with the first franchise opening in Texas within a few weeks.
Pliss said last week alone brought in 200 requests for franchise information, and he expects Rent-a-Grandma to host at least 25 franchises by the end of the year.
In the midst of an economic downturn, Sandra Nathan, the National Council on Aging's senior vice president of the economic security group, said that an employment opportunity like this offers an alternative to a population that has been hit especially hard by a poor economy.
"From the standpoint of this age group, it's a marketing opportunity. The 50 and older population is growing, and more and more older adults are determining that they need to remain in the work force, or re-enter it because of the economic downturn. This is a demographic to pursue," said Nathan.
Jane Mertes, a mother of two who hopes to have grandchildren of her own someday, was hired as a "grandmother" for Rent-a-Grandma five months ago after she saw an ad and jumped at the opportunity.
"The experience has been really been unique. You have to have someone that you really trust [in your home], and that's the big advantage of having someone older," said Mertes. "A lot of times, the family's grandparents aren't nearby. I know that children love to have someone older around, and I do have a lot of experience."
AARP family expert Amy Goyer seconds this sentiment, explaining that inner-generational relationships are important.
"There is a special relationship between adults and children. Children benefit from older people in their lives. … They have a lot of really great experience. It makes sense to look at older workers as a great resource," she said.
A former teacher of children working on Hollywood movie sets, Pliss said he began Rent-a-Grandma after talking to his students' parents about their need for reliable caretakers.
"I kept hearing from parents that they couldn't find competent help. And when they did find babysitters, they'd leave the house worse than they found it," said Pliss, explaining that the maturity and experience of an older caretaker make "grandmas" a perfect fit for the job.
Anna Marie Caldwell, a mother of three girls, said she hired a Rent-a-Grandma to help out with the children for a couple of days.
"The big advantage to hiring a 'grandmother' is that this is someone who has had their own kids, raised them and has that experience. You're not going to get that with a teenager," she said, adding that the woman she hired through the company helped with cooking, cleaning and the girls' homework.
"Teens are great, but the grandma is not going to be text messaging and is going to be focusing on the kids and not who she's going out with Friday night. It's a whole new level of seriousness in babysitting," said Caldwell.
So how does Pliss find grandmothers to rent? He said it's easy.
"Finding grandmas is the easy part. We're getting people all over the country. We get applicants nonstop," he said. "There are so many older women who want to work and can't find work. … I have women in their 80s calling. … There's no age discrimination."
Currently, with 30 regular customers, the company can rent grandmothers for long- or short-term, either to live in or live out. Pliss said the pay varies, but a full-time rent-a-grandmother can make $500 a week; the base salary is around $13 per hour, depending on the job.
The company's website, which promotes the tagline "You can trust our Grandmas," also maintains a Twitter account full of grandmotherly advice: "Hot water with lemon juice and honey is one of the best natural remedies for soothing a sore throat," reads a recent tweet.
And for those who doubt the ability and agility of the age group, Mertes proves that stereotype wrong by riding horses and even wake boarding during the summertime.
"I think grandmas are stereotyped. But I'm over 50, and I'm still very active. … I don't think they should count us out just yet," she said.