September 3, 2016

When Children Become Part of Retirement



grandparents walking with grandkids

This comment was left on a blog post last month:

"One subject that I would suggest has to do with Grandparents (retired) who find themselves assisting adult children and grandchildren through financial and/or emotional difficulties; sometimes long term. I have two friends who have custody of their grandchildren.
 One has embraced it as a "second chance", while the other struggles with the disruption to her recent retirement. In both cases, they were the only option for the children. So, it makes me wonder just how many situations like this there are out there, and how people cope with their circumstances."

What an excellent and important question. Whether you are a grandparent or not, have a similar situation or know of someone who does, or have never really thought about it before, this is a topic full of important issues. For this post, let's assume that the grandkids are not someone's responsibility because of the tragic death of the parents. I think that probably changes the responses dramatically. Rather, because of a divorce or other familial problem, children need a home and someone to raise them.

Most of us expect a satisfying retirement to be the time in our life when many major family responsibilities are no longer of concern. Any children of ours are grown and on their own. While they may need occasional help to get through a rough patch, day to day involvement is unlikely. Yes, there are are situations where a life crisis means moving back home or more active involvement in that adult child's life, but such situations are usually short term. Grandkids visit, are a joy for a period of time and then whisked back home. 

Care for aging parents may become part of our routine, too. From occasional visits to check on their welfare, to actually having one or both parents living with you full time, this situation can substantially alter one's retirement plans. But, I am not sure there is any more unsettling event than that questioned by the reader: suddenly becoming full time "parents" to grandchildren. 

To have a new infant or young child in your home brings an immediate change to the routine, budget, and energy needs of a retired person. Regardless of age, that child (or children) will require 24 hours of your commitment for years, maybe decades. The normal definition of retirement doesn't include such a situation.

As the reader notes, there are different reactions possible. One is viewing the full time care of grandchildren in a positive light. Some of the mistakes from the first time raising kids can be avoided. Being older and more experienced than as a young parent, a grandparent has the advantage of hindsight. The energy of a young child can be contagious. A deeply meaningful purpose in life becomes clear.

On the other hand, it is entirely understandable for a grandparent or a retired couple to be less than pleased with this new responsibility. Well laid plans and expectations must be shelved. That energy bubbling out of a youngster can be draining. Never-ending 'why" questions are the new norm.

My question to you is how would you cope with this situation? If you are a full time "parent" to a grandchild, please share your thoughts and experiences. If this is not your reality, but you know someone who is raising a child, again I'd urge you to give us all some insight. Even if you have no children who might leave you children to raise, you can empathize with those who do and share some thoughts.

This is a very tough question. It carries with it all sorts of feelings of responsibility. There may be some guilt and anger. Or, there may be a feeling that someone has been given an incredible opportunity to properly shape a human life. I can understand both reactions.

How do you feel?


Want to learn more?  Check out this article:

Become a Parent One More Time



21 comments:

  1. Most often, with my friends anyway, is that the children are putting the daycare responsibilities on to the grandparents so they can for whatever reason save the money. I know of some good friends who dreamed of traveling the world but instead are babysitters five days a week while their kids are at their jobs.

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    1. Yes, that is a very common scenario. Daycare is so expensive, sometimes you wonder if a stay-at-home parent wouldn't be worth it. Studies certainly show it is better for the child. But, economics almost demand a two income household anymore.

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    2. There was an article in a magazine recently (link below) about complications being a grandparent and taking on responsibilities for child care and so on. It begins with a grandmother who "...was told with the mortgage and car payment, money was too tight for the $60/day registered daycare. Boland understood, until she arrived one day at their home and saw a brand-new, big-screen, high-definition TV". Not saying this is the case in any more than few cases but it can happen so be clear about expectations. - David
      http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/grandparent-is-more-complicated/

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    3. I know grandparents who have been taken advantage of, so to speak, by their children because they don't set boundaries and they allow it. Also, sacrifices often have to be made in order for one parent to stay home. I know we made sacrifices so that I could be home with our kids. I have heard folks talk about the impossibility of having one parent home and yet they have all kinds of "wants" that they consider "needs". It's very often a matter of priorities, in my view.

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    4. My best friend and her husband have moved in with their daughter's family. It is a shared home. My bff cares for the one year old while everyone else works. This was a norm three generations ago. It is still the norm, that I know of, on the Navajo reservation and first generation American homes.
      My bff is enjoying this time- knowing it passes so quickly. She does not feel imposed upon, She is not responsible for nightly family dinners or child care on the weekend. The shared home has relieved everyone's pocketbook. The bonus- the baby has a full time adult loving on him like no "outsider" could.

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  2. My worst nightmare, frankly. Fortunately I don't see it ever happening but, I know I could never turn my back on my grandchildren. I started raising children around 10 years old and I think I've earned a reprieve.
    b

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    1. We are the guardians for our grandkids. Something tragic happening to the parents is the only way I see that ever being part of our life. But, I have the ultimate respect for those grandparents who do sacrifice so much.

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  3. My sister raised her great granddaughter from 9 months old until she was 13 when the child's mother regained custody. It tore my sister's heart out because it was like someone taking your child away. She also felt a great deal of resentment because at 72 she felt that she physically could not do many things she could have enjoyed in the previous 13 years.

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    1. That is quite a story of conflicting emotions. Thanks, Dawn, for a true life look at the pros and cons involved.

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  4. Thank you Bob for airing this topic. The articles you referenced were enlightening. I think, without a doubt, most grandparents would step up if necessary. What I would like to know more about is, the folks that have actually been in this situation and what impact it had on their retirement years. As reader RJ mentioned, his friends were planning to tour the world. Are they bitter, or better for having taken on the responsibility of their grandchildren? Does anyone think that age and finances (of the grandparents) dictate whether the experience is embraced as an opportunity or simply tolerated?

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    1. I would guess age and finances does have some impact, but probably more so is the relationship within the family and the circumstances that trigger the grandparent-child raising.

      I hope we continue to get good responses, because it is an important topic that benefits from an open exchange of views.

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  5. My sister, age 74, and her husband have their divorced son living with them, along with his children, ages 6 and 11. They have been with them for 5 years. While their son contributes financially, a lot of the childcare (meals, baths, homework, nurturing) falls on my sister. She seems to thrive on this most of the time and occasionally worries that she might not live long enough to see them grown.

    My 62 year old sister-in-law retired from teaching recently so that she could provide daycare for her divorced son's two children, ages 1 and 3. While they don't live in her home, she gets up every morning and goes to his house at 5 am so that he can leave for work. She then dresses the children when they wake up, feeds them and takes them back to her house for the remainder of the day.

    My daughter is a stay-at-home mom and homeschools two of her children. The third child is severely disabled and requires constant care. My husband and I sold our home in another community and moved near them so that we could provide a little respite care and allow our daughter and son-in-law some much needed "couple time" occasionally. My own grandparents played a very important part in my childhood and I love making special memories for my grands!

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    1. Thank you, Glenda, for these real life examples. I can only add I am impressed with the dedication, energy, and love exhibited.

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    2. What is startling to me is that these are all close relationships to you. A sister, sister-in-law and yourself are all making significant contributions to the child rearing of the next generation.

      Perhaps it's much more common then we realize. :)

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    3. Good point, Morgen. Maybe the extended family situation is more common and stronger than we have been led to believe.

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  6. When my husband retired a little over three years ago (I had already stopped working) we had three teenagers (17, 15 & 13) at home. Our situation is a little different though - we adopted our daughters when we were in our mid- to late-40s/early 50s, and knew we would still be raising them into our 60s. For a long time my husband and I never believed we'd be able to retire until they were grown and on their own, but things came together and we were able to retire, although our retirement situation is probably different than most.

    Raising children in our 50s and 60s has been a positive overall. Our daughters have kept us active, and more up-to-date with what's going on in the world, or at least helping us view things from a different perspective. They keep us positive and hopeful. Yes, they have had an impact on our retirement when it comes to finances, especially as two are now attending college, but we've been able to manage budget-wise and still enjoy traveling and other benefits that come with retirement.

    I think we and others might feel differently about the experience of raising children during retirement if the element of choice has been removed. I can imagine feeling very stressed and possibly unhappy if we had unexpectedly had to take in a grandchild and raise them. Not that we wouldn't do it, but it's different when you voluntarily share in the process of raising children, or do it from choice. I would dearly love to spend more time with our grandchild, or live in a shared household with our son and family, or daughters later on. Having to raise our grandson on our own and be entirely responsible for him would be something else entirely though - I had a video chat with him a couple of days ago and even then his energy level about wore me out!.

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    1. I am so glad you added your "different" situation to this discussion. Deciding to adopt in someone's late 40's/early 50's is quite a leap of faith. The fact that it worked out so well might give others an idea along these lines. There are a lot of hurting children or those in need of a loving home. Your choice is a brave one.

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  7. My husband and his sibling lived with their grandparents for a few years as small children while their mother, a single mom, worked in a camp. When she returned, she worked full time to support herself and the two children. His grandparents continued to provide after-school care, and I'm sure the continuity of care and support was an important factor in his upbringing. At that time, more than sixty years ago, there were very few options for single mothers.

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    1. In the 1950's I'm not sure professional childcare was even available. Like your husband's situation, grandparents were the option. God bless them.

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  8. When my daughter became pregnant 7 years ago, there were several different options discussed regarding day care and none of them seemed satisfactory to me. So I decided to retire from a company that I had worked for over 36 years to take care of my first (and only) granddaughter. So I guess you could say I went in with my eyes wide open. It really has been a blessing in disguise and given me the chance to provide many opportunities for my granddaughter that I was unable to do for my daughter because of course, I was working. We did everything, including Spanish lessons starting at 12 months old that continue today, specific days to visit the library for storytime and so much more. Now, I provide after school care which basically consists of driving her to whatever activity is scheduled for that day. My daughter is an educator, so we do get breaks throughout the year. But lately, I have began to wish my travel plans could be made at various times during the year and not be so restricted. I'm sure there is a simple solution, but, so far, I haven't been able to plan anything that would disrupt our flow.

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    1. That is tough. School breaks happen when they are scheduled and life must fit around them.

      Spanish lessons starting at 12 months...that is something. But, as we know, kids are at their most receptive in the first 5-6 years of life. You have been a very special grandmother!

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