May 20, 2021

Suddenly You Are A Parent Again - To Your Grandchildren

 grandparents walking with grandkids

"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, 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 problems, 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 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. For many of us, grandkids pay a 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, a young child, or teenager 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. The normal definition of retirement doesn't include such a situation.

As the reader notes, there are different reactions possible. One is viewing the 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 and frankly, overwhelming. Never-ending 'why" questions are the new norm. The budget is knocked seriously askew. 

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?


16 comments:

  1. 12 years ago I had 2 employees who were suddenly raising grandchildren. The "parents" were inept and in trouble. The stress was d/t their own children. And then helping the grands cope with the behavior of the parents dropping in/out of their lives. These were both terrible situations and mentally draining. As a supervisor, it was awful and very disruptive to the team. Legal calls, hearings, mandatory court appearances......it never stopped.

    One of these grandparents is still dealing with her daughter's legal problems and trying to help these grandkids have a "normal" life?

    All I can say is "I am sorry".

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    1. That is a sad story, but one that is not all that atypical, I am afraid. As grandparents we could end up in a similar situation with little or no warning. I hope the children involved benefited from the grands' sacrifices.

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  2. I've appointed my parents as the guardians to our two teens (with their permission), if both my husband & I pass away. We have no reason to believe this will ever happen, but if it did, we've also set up an extremely large trust. This would remove the financial worry, and allow my parents to "throw money at the problem" (hiring help, covering all associated costs & then some).

    It would be challenging for them to suddenly be parents of younger children again, but they are very close to my kids, in good health themselves, and are our best option. Luckily, our kids are teens & will both be out of the house in 4 years. If we had very young children, it would be a different discussion.

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    1. Betty and I are legal guardians of our grandkids in a similar situation. At ages 14, 13, and almost 11 we are past the most difficult child-rearing stage, but teenagers are not a time of life without drama!

      We have a tremendous relationship with all three but certainly hope mommy and daddy are the ones to deal with teenage angst!

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  3. Grandparents who take their grandchildren in when the parents cannot function are heroes in my book. Too often the state takes the kids into foster care where anything can happen. Sisters and brothers get separated, criminal abuse has been known to happen. and so on. When the grandparents take those kids, the kids are still with family and are in a more stable situation. That's almost always good for the kids. Certainly there are grandparents who aren't able to do this and that's not their fault. Grandparents taking their children's children should contact the state about supports that may be available to them to make the change easier.

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    1. All good points, Laura. The support angle could be especially vital.

      I just finished reading "The Throw Away Children." It is a fictionalized account of a very real situation in post-war Britain where parents can't raise their own children. After a time in a rather miserable orphanage facility, the kids are shipped to foster families in Australia and all contact with relatives and grandparents ends. The story (and reality) breaks your heart.

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  4. I am raising my grandson due to his mother's drug abuse. It was take him or he goes into foster care and I just couldn't do that. It was so hard in the beginning because he was 3 months old and didn't sleep through the night. I'm in my 60's and still working. Diapers, formula and day care are expensive these days so my retirement fund has dwindled. He's 4 now and I don't know what I would do without him. I feel like I've given him a good start in life that he wouldn't have received otherwise. I just hope I'm still around until he's 18.

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    1. Your story is a heart-warming one that gives anyone in a similar situation hope, courage to struggle through the nasty bits, and emerge with a solid sense of accomplishment, love, and commitment. Your grandson is a lucky and blessed young man to have you in his life.

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  5. A friend who teaches Kindergarten told me that 20% of the students in her class are being raised by someone other than their parents. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, etc.. Drugs, mental illness, abuse or neglect--the reasons abound. Some of these people are also tending to the needs of their aging parents as well. The stress can be enormous. Heroes all.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. Wow...that many? 20%? The double whammy you mention of child raising and caring for elderly parents is almost too much to comprehend. But, people do it. Heroes? Absolutely.

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  6. My sister raised her grandson due to stability issues of her daughter (my niece). In her 40s my sister took in her baby grandson and raised him along with her other son that was still at home. My sister's grandson is now grown and doing well, her daughter unfortunately died from a drug overdose a few years ago.

    On the other hand sometimes outside care is required when the parent (or grandparent) can't manage. My sister also has another daughter, her youngest, that has been severely mentally and physically disabled since she was a few months old. There was no specific reason why she should have been disabled, it was just was one of those things. My sister struggled for a few years to raise her disabled daughter at home on her own but with a mental age of about 6 months and not even the ability to sit upright it was beyond my sister's ability to do that and raise her 3 other children at the same time. My disabled niece is now an adult, her condition remains about the same, and for more than 30 years she has received nurturing care in a facility equipped to properly deal with these types of disabilities. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, it's beyond your capabilities and there's no shame is recognizing that.

    When I look back at some of the parenting struggles we've had raising our daughters they are nothing compared to what my sister has had to deal with. I tip my hat to her.

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    1. Your point is very important to raise: situations where all the love and desire in the world are not enough to do what is best for the child. I imagine the emotions in such a conundrum are powerful. Yet, there comes a time when one becomes overwhelmed and seriously out of their depth. Your sister sounds like an amazing woman who deserves all the respect and support she can be given.

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  7. My husband and I have a blended family of eight children, now all grown. We knocked ourselves out to raise them with love and care. A few had drug or alcohol problems and also children. One day we committed to each other that we would not raise our grandchildren, and we didn't. A few did fine, a few didn't. I may sound heartless, but I think we made the right decision.

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    1. Each situation is both unique and not open to others' opinions. After raising eight children from a blended family, you and your husband proved your devotion to giving each the best opportunity for developing as a functioning adult.

      To take on the burden of another generation would be more than you could handle. Probably not the easiest decision, but one that was completely understandable. At some point each of us has to decide if we are enabling or actually helping someone.

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  8. My husband and I have had permanent guardianship of our grandson for almost 5 years. He was 11 when his father (our son) went to prison for 5 years on drug charges and his mother went to jail on drug charges as well. She was also pregnant at the time - from another man - and did not fight our guardianship. My husband was retired at the time but I was not. Our grandson has been the joy of our lives. I am so happy we were blessed with the time and financial ability to care for another child. I know other grandparents are not as fortunate.

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    1. That is a heartwarming story to add to the discussion. From the type of home environment your grandson likely experienced, the change to what you and his grandfather provided most have been like a lifeline for the boy.

      Thank you for this positive report of what can happen in such an unfortunate situation.

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