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More Grandparents Taking on Parental Role for Grandchildren

According to a new report by ABC News, nationwide, there are 2.7 million grandparents raising grandchildren, and about one-fifth have incomes that fall below the poverty line, according to census figures.

Their ranks are increasing. The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is up 7 percent from 2009. Experts say the trend is likely to continue as the nation responds to the opiate epidemic. Military deployment and a growth in the number of women incarcerated are other factors forcing grandparents to step into parental roles.

Already, child welfare agencies are reporting an increase in the number of children, especially infants, taken from parents battling drug addictions and mental health issues. After years of declines, children in foster care rose by nearly 1 percent in 2013 and by 3.5 percent in 2014 to more than 415,000.

The increase comes as states are placing more foster children with relatives in response to research showing that children fare better with family rather than in foster care.

There is an economic incentive, too. Generations United, a nonprofit that advocates for “kinship families,” says taxpayers would see significant savings by keeping children out of foster care and placing them with relatives.

But at the same time, the group says there is no comprehensive framework to keep these kinship families stable. Crucial programs, such as legal services and support groups, “exist only in small pockets of the country,” it said.

Those support services are something many grandparents raising grandchildren need. Many are living on fixed incomes and managing chronic illnesses. About a quarter of grandparents raising grandchildren have a disability.

“People who step forward, step forward because there is a crisis in their family and apparently don’t take into account their own limitations,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work at the University of Toronto, who has researched grandparent caregiving in the United States. Read full article

Elaine K. Williams, author of The Sacred Work of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren reports that one of the biggest challenges parenting grandparents face is the push-and-pull relationships they have with their grandchildren’s biological parents. The parents may make false promises to visit or to give their children a gift but fail to follow through, leaving children disappointed and angry. The parents pull them in with promises, and when they’re broken, the children feel rejected, or pushed away and grandparents are left to deal with the children’s deep anger.

bigstock-Generation-Conflict-10897811-1-800x1204Setting strong boundaries for the interaction between grandchildren and their biological parents, then, is critical to their emotional well-being. Every adult’s ability to trust or mistrust begins with this primary relationship, between parent and child. Parenting grandparents must provide safety, security, love, and a trusting home environment. They can’t let biological parents threaten children’s ability to trust and feel consistently loved. You make enormous sacrifices to ensure your grandkids have predictability and security. Don’t let anyone threaten that.

The Right Things to Say

We know that there are intergenerational challenges when grandparents raise grandchildren. Communication and understanding are key to healing the wounds created by grief and loss, for both generations. Knowing the very specific language that opens communication and bridges the generations is vital to building strong relationships. Parenting grandparents need to be able to answer difficult questions, like, “Why aren’t my parents raising me?” “Why is my parent in jail?” “What do I say when other kids ask me why you are so old?”

41iP3+sn83L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Since my book was published, my sister became a parenting grandparent to her two grandchildren, and I began to understand on an even deeper level what it means to become a parent for a second time. My writing, my workshops, and my work are totally dedicated to honoring the sacred and noble work, and the sacrifices made, by every parenting grandparent.


Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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