Being a parent is hard. Really hard. Downright difficult some days. Anyone who cares about being a mom knows that there are a million little challenges mixed in with the joys of each day. And some days we sit down and think about the day and have to look really hard to find the good in that day. That’s okay. We’re human.
But what about the parents who just don’t show up? The ones wrapped up in their own lives in such a destructive way that their children are suffering? The ones who are dropping the ball so badly that their own parents have to step in to do the work? What happens to their children? What happens when Grandma and Grandpa have to be Mom and Dad?
Grandparents Are Stepping Up
What about those grandparents who are stepping up to the plate (again) to raise a family?
In Ohio, there are a growing number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. According to Grandfamilies.org, there are over 225,000 grandchildren living with their grandparents, and about 100,000 of those grandparents are primary caregivers to their grandchildren. These startling facts highlight several problems that families are facing not only here locally, but also nationally.
Why Aren’t Parents Caring for Their Own Children?
It might come as a shock to many of us that some parents simply do not want (or have left themselves unable) to raise their children. There are a variety of reasons, but the primary issues are substance abuse, abuse and neglect, and incarceration. With the tremendous opioid epidemic, Ohio is particularly struggling to find safe places for children who are a part of the legal system when their parents get into trouble. According to PewTrusts.org, “For every child in foster care who has been placed with a relative, another 20 children are being raised by relatives outside the system.” These forgotten people are often grandparents.
Grandparents Are Being Forced To Be Parents…Again
Most grandparents love their grandchildren and jump at the chance to spend time and energy having fun with their beloved grandbabies. However, these older adults have already raised their children. Many have plans to travel, pursue hobbies, and retire from work. Unfortunately, when grandparents become primary caregivers again, many of these plans are canceled.
Raising children is costly, so budgets must be reconfigured and stretched to factor in these newfound expenses. Instead of enjoying their grandchildren, they’re forced into a parental role and all the responsibilities that come along with that role: homework, extracurriculars, grocery bills, discipline, and everything else that comes with being a parent.
Lawyers and Legal Challenges Abound
In addition to the daily grind of parenting, grandparents are also facing new and exhausting legal challenges. Without parental rights in a legal sense, grandparents struggle with getting their grandchildren medical care, enrolling children in school, and performing other responsibilities typical of a parent.
Emotional Baggage Is Heavy and Plentiful
Let’s face it: if you’re a grandparent caring for a grandchild, then something definitely went awry with your own child. Dealing with a child whose parents aren’t capable of caring for her is a tall order. Children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned come with a whole host of emotional challenges: fear of abandonment, trust issues, low self-esteem, and issues with their own identity and where they fit into the family. These aren’t simple things to fix, and counseling isn’t cheap. The kids are facing an uphill battle, and the grandparents are too.
Grandparents are raising grandchildren because something went terribly wrong with one of their own children. After all, no parents raise their child to adulthood expecting them to be unable to care for their own children someday. This is devastating for most grandparents, not to mention dealing with the adult child who is the one who abused, neglected, or abandoned their grandchild(ren) is a lot to ask.
Grandparents put into these tough situations are often stressed out and spread thin. An adult child whose life is a mess is a lot to cope with, but add in caring for displaced grandchildren and we have a recipe for emotional struggles. Special occasions like holidays and birthdays take on a whole different level of stress when trying to navigate the waters of these broken families.
New coats. School supplies. Groceries. Doctor appointments. Counseling. Housing. All of these costs can add up quickly for grandparents. With many older adults working fewer hours or retired, the financial impact of raising a family for a second time can be crippling. There are some social programs available, but they aren’t easy to navigate (especially for seniors) and many grandparents aren’t poor enough to qualify for help.
What can we do?
It seems that this situation will not disappear overnight, and as moms, we need to recognize these older parents who are doing round two in the parenting ring. We need to support these grandparents in the ways that we can. That can be as simple as pointing grandparents to resources, taking them a meal, sending a word of encouragement, or sharing our own knowledge about parenting in today’s world. There are families all around us facing this situation, and they need love and encouragement just as much as we do as moms.