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Posted on August 17, 2016 by Christine Crosby in 

Ron, Nelli and Simone: A Celebrated GRAND Family

A Truly Grand Family

By now, everyone has heard of Simone Biles for her amazing gymnastic skills, but she has also brought to light one of the biggest families issues facing us today: children being raised full time by their grandparents; referred to as a GRAND Family.

According to The Undefeated, Ron and Nellie met while Nellie was in college in San Antonio, and Ron was working in the Air Force. The Air Force wasn’t his only job, though; Ron was also busy raising his daughter, Shanon, as a single father. After struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, Shanon moved to Cleveland to be with her mother. In a recent interview with TMZ, Shanon Biles said she’s been sober since 2007, and believes Ron threw her under the bus when discussing her addiction with NBC. “He could have been more classy about it.” Shanon also says that she’s extremely supportive of Simone’s career and is happy to have reestablished a relationship with her biological daughter. “I just want to say I love you Simone … I’m so proud of you! Go Team USA and I’ll talk to you and see you when I can!”

Some time later, Nellie became a nurse, and even co-owned a chain of Texas nursing homes. Ron, meanwhile, worked as an air traffic controller. Together, the couple had two sons, Ron Jr. and Adam.

grand familiesIn 2003, when Simone was just six-years-old, she and her sister, Adria, were adopted by Ron and Nellie Biles, and moved into their home in Spring, just north of Houston. Upon taking Simone and Adria in, Nellie promised she would love the girls as if they were her own. She told The Undefeated, “I don’t know the exact date, but my heart just made room.”

Eventually, Simone decided that calling her grandparents ‘mom and dad’ was more fitting than referring to them as ‘grandma and grandpa’– she even recalls the moment she had the revelation. Simone told Texas Monthly, “I went upstairs and tried practicing it in the mirror—‘Mom, Dad, Mom, Dad.’ Then I went downstairs, and she was in the kitchen. I looked up at her and I was like, ‘Mom?’ She said, ‘Yes!’ ”

After Simone was adopted, the newly-expanded family went to counseling for two years, to make the transition somewhat smoother. Nellie told Reuters, “Me taking my barriers down and the children taking their barriers down and before you know it there is unconditional love that’s there between both of us, or between myself and my husband, and Simone and her sister. That goes for her brothers too, they feel the same way. It’s not something you can plan, it just happens.”

When Simone’s mother, Shanon’s, drug and alcohol issues became overwhelming, she and her three siblings were put in foster care. They jumped between foster homes for six years before finally being adopted. While Simone and Adria went to live with Ron and Nellie in Spring, Simone’s two brothers moved in with Ron’s sister. The Undefeated writes, “Simone used to do the talking for her little sister until she learned that she had a mother who wasn’t going anywhere and that she could relinquish that role.”

grand familiesNellie and Ron are extremely supportive of Simone’s career. In a recent interview, Nellie told Reuters, It’s really hard to explain because you do not one day wake up and decide ‘oh good, I’m going to be her mother and I’m going to love being her mother’. It wasn’t an easy transition because they didn’t have any connection to me and I didn’t have any connection to them. It was a very trying time for me because they were not my children, they were related to Ron.

According to Fox News, a woman recently tweeted NBC announcer, Al Trautwig, suggesting that he call Ron and Nellie Simone’s parents (like she does), and not her grandparents. Trautwig replied by saying: “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.” The response ended up being deleted, but not before multiple people weighed in on the subject and criticized Trautwig for his statement. Fox referenced one woman, Carrie Goldman, an adoptive mother, who said “…the comments deeply disrespect adopted children and parents.” On August 8, Trautwig admitted that he “…regrets tweeting that the adoptive mother and father of American gymnastics star Simone Biles were not her parents, a declaration that angered advocates for adoption.”

So what does Simone call Shanon, her biological mom? Just that– her biological mother. According to Fox, “Shanon Biles is her biological mother…Nellie Biles is Mom.”

One good source for grandparents raising grandchildren is Piecing Hearts Together (selected as one of GRAND Magazine’s 2016 Top 12 Websites for Grandparents)

According to the U.S. 2010 Census, there were more than 2.7 million households with grandparents raising their grandchildren. This is an increase from the 2000 Census.  Plus, the figure does not even count other relatives acting as parents such as people raising their brother or sister’s children or, even yet, raising their niece or nephew’s children. Over sixty percent of grandparents raising their grandchildren are still in the workforce. This is also up from 2000, and 16.3% are living below the poverty level.

According to Piecing Hearts Together, “As grandparents or other relative  (kinship) parents, we may have had no mental, emotional, or financial preparation when we began raising these children. It can be daunting. Everything, from needing diapers and formula, an appropriate car seat for the toddler, furniture such as cribs or kids bunk beds, to dealing with an ill child with health and medical concerns, may need to be immediately addressed.”

To learn more about the important role of grand families visit Generations United www.gu.org

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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