PARENTING ZONE: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Posted by queenmadison

Having survived one round of parenting, a growing number of grandparents are stepping up to the challenge of raising their children's children.
Anne found it hard to say goodbye to her teenage daughter, Sarah, as Sarah prepared to leave her small town in Canada for college, thousands of miles away. Sarah experienced a difficult goodbye, as well. Not only was she leaving her parents, but also her own daughter, Lisa. As they marked this significant milestone in all their lives, Anne knew that going to college was the best thing for Sarah, so she was willing to do her part to help ensure a better future for her daughter. Sarah thought that when she was older and more stable she'd come back for Lisa. She never did.
The story of Anne, Sarah, and Lisa has a happy ending, but a growing number of grandparents like Anne are facing significant challenges these days as they put their own lives on hold to raise their grandchildren.
Facts and Figures
The 2000 United States Census revealed that more than 2.4 million grandparents are heads of households in which their grandchildren live. That adds up to one in 12 families. According to the 2001 Canada Census, Anne is one of the 56,790 grandparents who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. Half of these caregivers are going it alone, without a partner. For both countries, the numbers have steadily been on the rise.
Why Do Grandparents Do It?
"Parenting a grandchild is a necessity born of tragedy, and tragedy has no regard for race, class, ethnicity, location or religion," say Sylvie De Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown, co-authors of the book, Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family. Many families are in crisis, stemming from a host of problems that are on the increase. This correlates with the growing number of grandparents taking over parenting from their children for reasons including the following:
=child abuse
=substance abuse (drugs and alcohol)
=teenage pregnancy
=parental death
De Toledo and Edler point out that "Drugs and alcohol account for more than 80 percent of the grandparent families." The familial bond runs deep, as grandparents step in to keep these children safe, loved, and out of foster care.
After enduring a long battle to save her grandchild, Jenny, who was born with Fetal Alcohol Effect, Betty Cornelius created the CANGRANDS website as a resource for grandparents and family members who are raising extended family members. Betty was able to share the care of Jenny with the birth parents 10 to 15 days a month until the little girl was three-and-a-half years old. During the time that Jenny spent with the parents, Betty says, "Jenny suffered from four poisonings, molestation and numerous falls, all of which required hospital care." Betty fought her son and daughter-in-law for custody of Jenny. The birth parents had free lawyers while Betty borrowed $28,000 to help fund her battle. Finally, Betty was awarded custody after it was discovered that the maternal grandfather was a pedophile.
Betty sums up her experience like this, "Jenny is worth every cent. But the stress of the court battle led to high blood pressure and many health-related problems for me. Plus I lost my job. I worry about how I will ever catch up as I no longer have any retirement funds. I worry about short-term things like braces, lessons, and camp for Jenny. Then I worry about the long-term things like college and her wedding. Basically, we worry that our health and funds won't hold up long enough to see her into adulthood."
The Challenges of Parenting…Again
More grandparents than ever are reviving their former role of parent at the time when they should be caring for themselves and preparing for retirement rather than fighting legal battles. In many cases, they are already living on low incomes, so taking on the care of children adds significantly to their financial worries.
A high percentage of children reared by grandparents also have special needs, which adds another stressful dimension to their care. One such grandparent revealed that she receives only $214 dollars in aid per month to help with the care of her disabled grandchild: "If he were my foster child I would get a lot more," she says. "But I don't want to petition for him as a foster child because then the parents would be notified and I'd have to fight for him all over again."
There is some good news: The U.S. and Canadian governments are beginning to acknowledge the contribution that a relative has on a young child, and have introduced increased benefits and allowances, including retroactive payments and respite care.
How Do the Grandchildren Fare?
Overall, the outcome for children living with a relative they know is better than for those who have to adjust to life with a stranger as primary caregiver; keeping family ties strong and sibling bonds intact is important for young children. In a December, 2001 study called Kith and Kin: Kinship Care for Vulnerable Young People by Bob Broad, the children reported "emotional permanence"—feeling safe and secure living within their extended family—which resulted directly from the family love they received.
"I love to know that I belong to somebody, I'm loved by people and it's good to know that I've got somewhere to come after school that I can call home," says one.
The Happy Ending
Back to Anne, Sarah, and Lisa. Twenty years after assuming the care of her granddaughter, Anne suffers from debilitating lupus, and lives with Sarah. "After her contribution to Lisa's life, there was no question in my mind that my mother would come to live with me eventually," says Sarah. Together, they are helping to raise another one of Anne's grandchildren, Sarah's nephew, who has some disabilities. Anne rescued him sixteen years ago. Lisa, by the way, adores both her "mom" and her "mommy." Family love has come full circle.
September 12, 2004 is National Grandparents Day!
Resources on the Web:
Grandsplace: An online community for grandparents and special others raising children.
CANGRANDS: A not-for-profit organization devoted to providing support for kin caregiver families and those seeking access to family members across Canada.
Children's Defense Fund: CDF's Leave No Child Behind Kinship Care section offers news, data, and resources for kinship caregivers in the U.S.
Grandma's Hugs: An e-mail/chat support group comprised of Canadian grandmothers who are either raising or seeking access to their grandchildren.

Books for Grandparents:
1.To Grandmother's House We…Stay: When You Have to Stop Spoiling Your Grandchildren and Start Raising Them by Sally Houtman. Northridge Ca., Studio 4 Productions, 1999.
2.Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family by Sylvie De Toldeo and Deborah Edler-Brown. New York. The Guilford Press, 1995.