First, know this: You’re not alone. Roughly six million children in this country, or 1 in 12, are living in grandparents’ or other relatives’ homes. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, in more than 2.7 million households, grandparents are raising grandchildren. That doesn’t include other relatives acting as parents to someone else’s children.
More than 60% of these grandparents are still employed, with 16.3% living below poverty level; and the trend is growing, fed by substance abuse, financial problems, incarceration, HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and death
Retired grandparents may not be mentally, emotionally, or financially prepared to take on this task or to meet all the needs of children—beds, car seats, diapers, clothing, possible health and medical issues. To be effective caregivers, they must also be able to take care of themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Raising grandchildren may mean forgoing leisure time, anticipated travel, and trading your independence for “second-time-around” parenting, with all its responsibilities.
Deborah Whitley, Director of the National Center on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, University of Georgia, says that finding affordable housing is one of the grandparents’ biggest challenges. As awareness of the situation intensifies, some cities are stepping up to help these caregivers.
Newark, NJ: The city council approved a $525,000 loan for construction of a housing development for seniors raising grandchildren.
Boston, MA, combined public funds and private donations to build a four- million-dollar housing complex in 1994 for the same purpose.
Chicago, IL: A nonprofit organization (Renaissance Collaboratives) is constructing an apartment building for “grandfamilies”.
Similar facilities exist in Los Angeles and New York.
But there is also a bright side to raising grandchildren. It can lead to a closer relationship than occasional babysitting or visiting allows. Grandparents can connect more fully with the children’s world, become an important part of their lives, provide them with security, and may themselves feel younger.
And while grandparents might not be as physically capable as they once were, having already raised children, they have the confidence and wisdom of experience.
At age 50, Maggie found herself with the primary care of an infant grandchild—not something she had planned on. At that time, she knew no one else in this situation. Her friends were either employed or lunching and shopping together. Wherever she went, Maggie was the only grandparent with a small child in tow. It often seemed a very isolated day-to-day existence, but she loved the child and knew this was how it had to be until the parents were able to be fulltime caregivers.
Today, this child is a college graduate, living a successful, independent life; and Maggie happily reports that the two of them retain a close and loving bond. She says she wouldn’t trade having that experience for anything.
The internet is full of supportive websites for grandparents raising grandchildren: WWW.AARP.ORG/RELATIONSHIPS/FRIENDS-FAMILY/INFO; also, HTTP://HELPGUIDE.ORG; and, WWW.GRANDPRENTS.COM; plus, WWW.FACEBOOK.COM/GROUPS/RRCSUPPORT, (Relatives Raising Children). See also, I Love You from the Edges, by Karen Best Wright.
The children need us, but it’s not necessary to handle this alone. And know this too: the rewards can be huge.