BY JAIA LENT AND ALAN KING of Generations United
Already adept at successfully meeting challenges, Barbara Wells thought her biggest ones were behind her. Barbara was single, and all of her grown children had families of their own, so she’d been looking forward to a retirement that included cross-country trips. She hadn’t planned on raising another child, but that all changed her grandson, Jay’son moved in with her after his parents were incarcerated. “I wasn’t going to let him go into the system,” recalled Wells, who’s among the 2.7 million grandparents raising their grandchildren.
Wells had to make compromises, but she didn’t want to sacrifice all of her travels plans, so she did what any independent grandmother would do: she brought her fourteen-year-old grandson along. Over the years, they’ve taken road trips through Maryland, North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia. Barbara turned each trip into a learning adventure, which gave them a way to share their enthusiasm for special places.
Millions of grandparents across the country are raising their grandkids, and many forego whatever travel they had planned in their golden years to direct their time and resources to providing for their grandchild’s needs.
Yet, as Barbara Wells instinctively knew, finding ways to travel and explore together are important elements of building family connections and helping children learn—and one can plan and experience adventures, even on a tight budget.
Take a historical tour of your town. Every town has historical buildings, as well as courthouses and city offices, with photographs lining their walls, offering a chance to talk about history and about modern-day government, particularly the local political process and the ways young people can get involved.
Go camping. The outdoors is full of fun things to do, from hiking and canoeing to lying on the grass, pointing out constellations. Children don’t need fancy fixings for camping; they’re usually happy to be outdoors, “roughing it.” Pitch a tent in your backyard, fire up the barbeque, and make s’mores.
Share an experience through the Kin-Pal. Kin-Pal is a program that connects youth in grandfamilies with kinship kids in another area. Encourage your support group leader to contact the facilitator of another kinship support group and ask if they’d be willing to participate.
You can put it in a think bordered box and float it; or make it a pull quote in a colored font. It’s good to be a little creative so the whole book is not so boxy. THANKS!
“We have retired friends who are always telling us about their next cruise to Hawaii, or wherever. I tell them I go on cruises every day: I cruise to school, I cruise to the mall, I cruise to the doctor’s office, and I cruise to the skateboarding park. My grandson Joey is my cruise to Hawaii, and you know what? I wouldn’t trade my cruise for theirs.”
—Adrian Charniak, Riverside Illinois
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director, and Alan King is Communications Specialist, of Generations United (GU), home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, and a leading voice kinship caretakers.
Participate in a Pen-Pal Program
Children being raised in grandfamilies can benefit from knowing other children with similar family structure. The pen-pal kinship support program allows children to develop pen-pal relationships with kinship kids in another area. Kin-Pal Programs collect the names and email, or snail-mail, addresses of those who want to participate, and children swap their information. A Kin-Pal Program offers several benefits: it helps young people improve their writing skills and connects them with other children being raised by grandparents.