Here is the cycle of life or at least of parenting: Parents have kids. Parents raise kids. Kids have children of their own. Grandparents move into their golden years as their kids raise grandkids.
Unfortunately, the cycle as we know it is changing. More often, grandparents are being called into service to raise their grandkids. Why is this becoming the trend? There are many reasons. The bottom line is that the golden years and retirement are not what they used to be.
This trend is being seen across all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds. Is it a failure of the previous generation to parent well or just the hand that fate has dealt the present generation? For all the questions, there are no concrete answers.
What we do know is that a whole generation would be bereft of structure and guidance if it were not for their grandparents stepping up to the plate and offering to take over the role that they have reluctantly been saddled with.
Don’t get the wrong idea. Grandparenting is a special role in a child’s life. Grandparents get to spoil and dote on their grandchildren while parents have the job of handing out punishment. It is supposed to be a charmed life and a way to repay the next generation for their time served as the dutiful parent. But, they are exchanging that pleasurable hat for the primary position. And, life goes on.
In this report you will learn:
* Statistics behind the growing trend of grandparents becoming primary caregiver to their grandchildren
* The reasons for the shift in caregiver responsibilities
* Cons of the new parenting structure
* What grandparents need to manage their new roles
* Pros of grandparents and their grandchildren living as parent and child
* How we go forward from here
GRANDPARENTS BECOME PARENTS
The world is an ever-changing place. According to a 2000 survey by AARP, eight percent of grandparents were providing daytime care for their grandchildren. That is nothing new. Sometimes parents can’t afford childcare and having a family member who can help out is a welcome advantage.
That census report also says that about 4.5 million children live in homes that are headed by grandparents. For whatever reason, the parents are not the primary caregivers even though, in some cases, they are still in the child’s life.
Now let’s fast forward to 2005. According to the census bureau, this number has risen. Now, there are approximately 6 million children living with grandparents as their primary guardians. That is more than a thirty percent rise from what was reported in 2000.
In 2011, the trend is ever increasing. When they are reaching retirement age and beyond, more and more grandparents are taking over the parenting role again.
Reasons for the Shift
There are a number of reasons why grandparents have been asked to take on this role.
* Death – In many cases, the parents have died and left their children with no other guardian. Instead of facing a break-up of the family, grandparents are taking in their grandchildren.
* Incarceration – Some parents have wound up in jail and that leaves their children a ward of the state unless a relative can be found to care for them. Many children face a situation where at least one parent is in the penal system.
* Loss of parental rights – The courts make that decision but it can be based on child neglect, child endangerment, child abuse or drug or alcohol abuse on the part of the parent, rendering them unfit to care for a child.
* Abandonment – For whatever reason, the child has been left with the grandparent for a few days but the parent never returns.
* Military service – When both parents are in the military, the grandparents may be asked to care for their grandchildren until their parents return.
In all but the last case, there is usually time to prepare for the children who come and stay. In most cases, it is a surprise that brings upheaval and turmoil emotionally and financially in the lives of the grandparents.
CONS OF RAISING GRANDKIDS
We start with the negative side to get that out of the way. With the situations that bring about this new parenting structure, there are a lot of emotions going in all directions. Dealing with them is the downside and since that is what is encountered first, we will start there.
Effects on Marriage
For many retired couples, life is about to get better. They have done their years of service to their jobs and are looking forward to some years to spend together. What do retired couples do? They travel, visit family or have an agenda entirely of their own.
It is difficult to go from one day having your retirement planned to once again caring for children. The time you have earmarked for each other is now spent changing diapers, helping with homework and fixing meals for children.
This can lead to stress in both your lives and that can manifest itself in ways that draw you further apart instead of closer together. Once again you have to go back to your finances and see if you have enough money to care for these children. A male head of household may feel obliged to find a job to help out with the financial aspect, whether he wants to or not.
While busy being parents, you may tend to forget about each other and your relationship. Instead of partners, you become two ships passing in the night as you struggle each day with getting things done. Resentment can set in, especially if you were on different sides of the argument when asked to care for your grandchildren.
Effects on Health
For a younger person, adding even one child to a household without children can bring with it a stress load that will change your health outlook. For aging grandparents, there are already medical conditions that you may be predisposed to. When active children are thrown into the equation, there is often a decline in health experienced by one or both grandparents.
As we age, the body changes. Joints become stiffer, bones are weaker, the immune system is not as strong and agility is not what it once was. Following children can lead to unexpected falls and an increase in improper nutrition. It is hard to care for an injured spouse or yourself and children as well.
This decline in health is partly due to stress but also a neglect of one’s health in favor of the children. The instinct is to keep going until things begin to settle down, but they never do. Sacrificing doctor visits or refilling prescriptions to make ends meet is sacrificing your overall health. Without proper care, you may not be around to care for those grandchildren for much longer.
Effects on Kids
Now, let’s look at things from the point of view of the kids in crisis. For whatever reason, they are being uprooted from the environment that they have known to be relocated with grandparents. Depending on the relationship that their parents had with their grandparents, these children may not even know you.
For younger children this can be scary. Moving to a new location with people they don’t know can lead to acting out in school and at home. Other behavioral issues like crying and bedwetting are also signs that they are not adjusting well.
What if your grandkids are teenagers? Their lives are already in a state of flux and adding this new situation won’t make things better. Kids at this age may be protective of their younger siblings. They may want to do everything for them.
On the other hand, this may be the emotional break that leads them into risky behaviors. An out-of-control teen is hard for a grandparent to handle when they haven’t been parenting for twenty or thirty years. The circumstances can seem overwhelming.
What would teenagers and grandparents have to talk about? There is a generational gap here that can seem like a huge chasm at first. Just the language barrier may stop grandparents in their tracks when it comes to understanding what their grandchildren are talking about.
Some grandparents are technically savvy but others are not. Kids these days have iPods, smartphones, laptops, PDAs and other gadgets that can frighten older folks. Meeting in the middle can prove a stressful time.
Lack of Parenting Skills
Let’s face it; grandparents have been out of practice for a while as the primary caregiver. They thought that their job was done when their kids grew up. Starting all that over again at a moment’s notice is daunting.
Many feelings are going through their heads. At first, there is resistance because they have raised their children. There might even be the temptation to say that they won’t take the children in. But, something inside sees those children and their plight and can’t turn them away. This doesn’t make the feelings go away or the fact that parenting grandchildren is like a foreign concept.
When the parents are still in the picture, this can make it difficult for the grandparents. You are not legally allowed to enroll kids in school even if the parent is never around. Whenever they want to, they can show up in that child’s life and turn things upside down. Without a legal leg to stand on, you are doing all the work but not being able to make any solid decision for the child that the parent can’t come back and challenge.
DEALING WITH YOUR NEW SITUATION
Let’s stop for a minute and take a breath. It can seem like the entire world is spinning when that child or children come into your life. Since you are the new caregiver, the main concern at this point is to take care of yourself. This doesn’t mean neglecting the children, but don’t forget that if you are not well, then you won’t be able to help anyone.
Make Time for Yourself
The name of the game is balance. Now that there is a new component to your life, you need to achieve a new center of balance. While the kids are at school, take time to spend with friends. Even better, spend time alone with your spouse and reconnect.
You are allowed to have fun and time to yourself. You don’t have to give up your retirement dreams, just give them a facelift. Get a sitter and take weekend trips with and without the kids. Everyone needs to blow off steam.
In that special time, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Begin a regular exercise program. It can be walking every morning with friends or some other activity. Make regular medical visits. Keep up on your health so that your body will take care of you. A healthy body and a healthy mind are better able to cope with stressful changes.
There are support groups out there for grandparents who are taking care of their grandchildren. Become a part of it. Here you can voice your frustrations and let go of emotional baggage with others who understand what you are going through. It is healthy to be angry, upset, sad and even ashamed, but denying those feelings won’t do you any good.
Counseling is a helpful tool for both you and your grandchildren. It can help them to voice their opinions on the situation. Even though they are young, they have feelings, and expressing them in constructive ways is what counseling is all about. It can bridge the generational gap so you can communicate with your grandchildren.
There is no shame in asking for help. Many grandparents try to go it alone and end up in debt and stressed out. Local and state resources are available to help grandparents to tackle the many issues they will face as parents again.
Here are a few resources to check out:
* Social Services – Here you will discover how to apply for benefits on behalf of your grandchildren. TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) allow grandparents to apply for food stamps, daycare vouchers and cash assistance. You may have to show proof of parentage through birth certificates.
* Medicaid – If the children do not have health insurance, you can apply for government assistance through social services as well.
* Social Security – These benefits can be applied for if the parents of the grandchild are deceased. They may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).
* Area Agency on Aging – This is a resource that is found in most cities. They provide resources for housing issues for grandparents needing to care for grandchildren, where to find legal advice about guardianship, how to find support groups and other help. For more help visit the AARP website (www.aarp.com).
* Health department – They can provide you with parenting tips, skill refresher courses and also low-cost health care while you wait for medical health assistance from the government.
* Churches – Your local church or other place of worship can offer monetary assistance, clothing, food, and spiritual guidance for you and your grandchildren in your time of need.
* Schools – Public schools offer resources to help with special needs children and getting services for your grandkids to help them adjust to a new environment. Speak with the guidance counselor and school social worker.
PROS OF RAISING GRANDKIDS
Now that we have discussed the cons and ways to get help, it is time to talk about what grandkids can bring to the life of a grandparent. In light of the many resources that are now available, grandparents can concentrate on the matter of their grandkids and helping them adjust to a new life.
Effects on Marriage
Many grandparents believe that having children in the house again has helped them to maintain a youthful appearance and body. They discover a new vitality to their lives that was missing at one time. They were gearing down for a quiet retirement or one that was a slower pace of life.
Instead, they got grandchildren. It was a shock at first, but then they were given a new lease on life. They realized that they could be and do so much more as a couple and with these new children in their lives.
Effects on Health
Where once they may have stopped exercising, they have found that they have more energy than before. Getting older doesn’t have to mean getting slower. Constant activity with younger kids has strengthened their bones, led them to eat more nutritious meals, and helped them take better care of their health.
Effects on Kids
Grandparents are keeping the family unit together. They are preserving the next generation of their family. It is a struggle and an investment full of sacrifices, but many say that they would do it again. In the midst of all this, grandparents are reaching out across generational lines to communicate and get to know younger people. Not only are they teaching but they are learning more about technology.
Kids need a parental figure in their lives no matter what they say. Grandparents give these kids stability and a place to call their own. They are learning to suspend judgment and give them a chance to grow. Fun can be had with the grandkids even when you are their primary caregiver.
Grandparents are finding the resources available through books and community programs to help them brush up on parenting. They are also realizing that it is not a fault of their own that their children are not raising their own kids. Parenting is a job that comes without rule books but does require a lot of love. All parental figures can do is teach. It is up to the children to listen and learn.
To be a positive parent, positive self-talk is a must. Instead of looking at the glass as half empty, see it as half full. Your first thought may be that you can’t handle the newest problem in your life. But, once you calm down, tell yourself that the situation will resolve with one step at a time.
Why do grandparents do it? Why do they take in their grandchildren? There are many reasons for this and most have to do with the heart and not the head. Resources are available to help with coping and also surviving and thriving as a second-generation parent.
The situation is hard for both grandparents and grandkids. But, society is rooting for you. Where resources don’t exist, new ones are being created every day.