Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sue Scheff: Grandparents Raising Kids

I am actually hearing more and more of this weekly. Whether it is grandparents or other family members, this is becoming common.

“Many times this decision is not made totally voluntarily. The grandparents take it on because they love and care for the child.”

– Nick Hume, Ph.D., Psychologist

The government reports that nearly 2.5 million grandparents in the U.S. are soley responsible for the care of their grandchildren. And being a parent the second time around can be rewarding and full of challenges.

Jean Rhodes is no longer just grandma. For the past five years she has become “mommy” once again.

Rhodes began raising her son’s daughter, Anasha, at age two after the little girl’s mom died and dad couldn’t care for her.

“I knew she depended on me…needed me, ” Rhodes says.

Six months ago another granddaughter needed her too…6-year-old Sasha. Giving up her freedom and independence was difficult at first for Rhodes, and she admits she was a bit resentful in the beginning.

“It was like, why me? Why do I have to do this again?” Rhodes says. “But that passed.”

Today, more than two million grandparents are now raising their grandkids. That number has been rising for nearly two decades.

And experts say that shifting of roles from grandparent to parent, from grandchild to child, can create a mix of emotions.

“There’s going to be natural hurt, anger, resentment, resistance and rebellion,” says Dr. Nick Hume, a psychologist.

There are also sacrifices, both emotional and financial.

“I didn’t have a lot of money to do a lot of things, but I tried to give Anasha love,” Rhodes says.

Experts say it’s important for grandparents to get support. “Find other people where you can share and talk; people who may be further along than you or in the same situation who will give you permission to say what you’re feeling is normal and okay,” says Dr. Hume.

Rhodes has found comfort in a grandparents’ support group, and in her role as mother…. the second time around.

“I wouldn’t hesitate,” she says, “to do this again.”

Tips for Parents

In any multigenerational family, grandparents are an important resource. But for increasing numbers of children, grandparents are their only resource. According to recently released US Census figures, 5.6 million grandparents live with their grandchildren. Of these grandparents, 42% (2.35 million) are responsible for the care of the children. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) provides the following breakdown of the figures:

■The number of grandparent-headed households has increased 76% since 1970, and 19% since 1990.
■Six percent of all U.S. children under age 18 are growing up in grandparent-headed households.
■One-point-three million of these grandparents are married couples, 1.1 million are single grandmothers, and 157,000 are grandfathers.
■The majority of grandparents are between ages 55 and 64. Almost one-quarter are over 65.
■While grandparent-headed families cross all socio-economic levels, these grandparents are more likely to live in poverty than other grandparents.
■There are eight times more children in grandparent-headed homes than in the foster care system.
Though motivated by love for their grandchildren, taking on the job of parenting can provide frustrating challenges to grandparents. Many grandparents are preparing to slow down. The transition to full-time parenting can cause feelings of resentment, anger, loss and grief. In addition to the emotional adjustment, grandparents face legal and financial challenges.

Often times, grandparents step in to fill the parenting role without gaining legal guardianship of the child. Obtaining custody and legal guardianship can involve a lengthy and costly court battle. In some states, grandparents who do not have legal guardianship cannot enroll a child in school, have access to school records or secure medical care.

The AARP provides this list of additional challenges facing grandparents who are raising grandchildren:

■Making financial decisions that may involve a grandparent’s employment or applying for benefits like Medicaid or Social Security.
■Choosing appropriate childcare, including daycare, after-school programs, and respite care.
■Providing adequate medical care, including getting insurance coverage through private insurance or public programs.
■Educating their grandchildren.
■Providing emotional support to their grandchildren and finding support for themselves.
The American Academy of Children and Adolescent Psychiatry says it is very important for grandparents to receive support and assistance. Seeking out other family members, clergy, support groups and social agencies can be helpful.

■American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
■American Association of Retired Persons
■United States Census Bureau

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