Parenting Our Grandchildren

By Joanne R. Alloway

            When friends declined our annual party invitation, saying they still had their three grandchildren, I called a week later to ask if the children’s parents were away or if they were OK. Tearfully, she admitted that both her daughter and son-in-law had drug problems. Their grandchildren would have gone into foster care if they hadn’t taken them in. This was painful for our friends, the grandparents, to admit. The grandmother, who had done some homework, told me that more than 2.5 million children in the US live with grandparents as their primary caretakers. Grandparents love their grandchildren, but many are over 65, with vanishing dreams of travel or a leisurely retirement. Others wouldn’t have it any other way. This “granny being nanny” factor intrigued me.

U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that 13 percent of the population is over the age of 65, 80 percent of whom are grandparents. This generation of grandparents is better off financially, healthier and more fit to provide child care than prior generations, according to a 2011 study by Brown University and the Russell Sage Foundation. After the recession, there was a surge in grandparenting, providing a safety net at most levels, especially the poverty level.

Reasons attributed for primary care of grandchildren:

** Divorce

** Remarriage

** Parental death

** Substance abuse

** Incarceration

** Mental health problems

** Military deployment

** Child abandonment, abuse or neglect

** Unemployment

These situations are exceptions to the loving grandparents wanting to care for their grandchildren, but not because they have to. I spoke confidentially to grandparents, asking if some would share their experiences with our readers. Three agreed.

“My son-in-law was seriously injured in Afghanistan. My daughter moved to be near Walter Reed Hospital. I took care of their kids; they lived with me. The baby didn’t know her daddy and then her mommy! Today I have a wonderful relationship with these two beautiful girls. They’re four and six, living with their mother; but I raised them for three years. It wasn’t easy; I was 66, doing a young mother’s job!”

“My husband and I care for our four-year-old twin grandsons. They are a handful! Their mother died during childbirth. They live with our son, but we get them at 7 a.m., usually for 12 hours. He’s very grateful. We’re hoping he will move on so we can, too, but he can’t seem to. We’d like to enjoy our sunset years; we’re 68, travel was in our plans once … ”

“My daughter was 16, too young and immature when she had her son. When he was two weeks old, she decided she had made a mistake and didn’t want him. He was so beautiful and innocent, my heart cried. She went back to school and activities, leaving him with me. I took over, she knew I would. I was 58; he called me “mama.” I let him. Eventually, I legally adopted him, releasing her of any obligation; she was happy that she could still see him. I don’t regret my decision, but soon he must learn the truth. He’s 6 and I’m the oldest class mom!”

What about day care centers for children and nannies? The 2011 U.S. Census Bureau statistics on childcare contain too many variables to define here. Tables provide information for preschoolers to children age 14 in complex living situations. In 2011, 12.5 million (61 percent) of children under 5 years were in a regular type of childcare arrangement, either familial or regulated child care.,pdf

As for nannies, many of those available are not legal residents of the US, and their income isn’t reported, so they’re hard to track. It’s estimated that there are one million nannies working in America. For couples who can afford a nanny, flexibility with hours and schedules is a plus, but there are reported issues of trust and culture, according to  Sometimes the best nanny may be a “granny” the article reports.

The Australian Women’s Healthy Ageing Project, a 20-year longitudinal study of 120 grandmothers, 57-68 years, found that caring for grandchildren is beneficial. One day per week was found to be ideal, five days, too many. Those who did one day per week improved memory and mental processing, were more socially engaged and had fewer cognitive disorders than the five-day per week group. A lower risk of dementia was also noted.

Most grandparents pitch in when needed. Most say it gets easier and benefits outweigh challenges with kids, and they enjoy grandchildren because you can give them back to parents each day!

Joanne is an author and freelance writer in Annapolis. She can be reached at  [email protected]

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