Parenting Grandchildren Can Be a Challenge

Grandparent and child

By Parri O. Black, Courier & Press, April 19, 2016 –

Now that I am a grandparent, I have joined “the club” of proud Grannies, Nanas, Mimis, and more, who would no doubt go to the ends of the earth on behalf of a grandchild. Thankfully, most grandparents have the privilege of doting, spoiling and cuddling without the worries of educating, disciplining and providing.

My husband and I get all the joy without the hassles, happily returning the “perfect grandsons” to their parents, who have the real responsibility of child-rearing. As many grandparents are fond of saying, “Had we known how much fun grandchildren would be, we would have had them first.”

However, it’s not that simple when parents can no longer take care of their children and the responsibility falls to grandparents. It may be because of a parent’s death, child abuse or neglect, military deployment, incarceration or deportation. Whatever the reason, these children need a safe, stable and loving family environment.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than 2.5 million children in America were raised by grandparents or other relatives at some time in their lives.

When family members or close friends take on this parental responsibility, it’s called “kinship care,” which sounds much sweeter than the often harsh reality. Many times the need arises when grandparents are living on limited or low incomes, and now they must also struggle to meet the basic needs of grandchildren.

The Casey Foundation released a report calling on governments and communities to improve the availability of benefits and resources for kinship families, so that their children can thrive and succeed. The report found that these families need extra help to handle a variety of challenges, including:

Emotional and behavioral issues tied to the trauma of things such as child abuse and neglect or simply parental separation.

Legal hassles obtaining the necessary authority to enroll a child in school, access basic medical care, give consent for services or become a licensed foster parent to qualify for more assistance.

Financial burdens accessing government supports and paying for food, clothing, child care, health insurance and more.

No matter the circumstance, parenting has never been easy or cheap. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average monthly cost of raising a child is $1,135.

As a grandmother, there is nothing I would trade for the joy of having a grandchild, but then again, I’m not shouldering the primary responsibility of parenting. Grandparents and other relatives who step up to care for children in need are truly priceless and deserve our support and gratitude.

Grandparents Play the Role of a Lifetime

by Parri Black, Courier & Press, February 10, 2015 —

At this point in my life, nothing gives me greater joy than my grandchildren. The feelings I have for them are almost indescribable. It’s a combination of deep affection and perhaps an even deeper connection.

They link my past, present, and future, and God willing, they will carry a part of me into a time I will never know. Like most grandparents, I only want the best for them, but I am not ultimately responsible for them.

Fortunately, my grandsons are in good hands with two terrific parents. They also benefit from having two sets of grandparents and even four great-grandparents who love and adore them.

The bond between grandparent and grandchild can be one of the most significant relationships in a child’s life. Grandparents can be great playmates, encouragers, and guides without the burden of being the primary caregiver, provider, and disciplinarian.

Though we may worry about our grandchildren, typically, grandparents don’t have to raise them. We have other important functions in the family system, according to Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting.

He has identified 11 special roles that grandparents play in the lives of children. They are:

  • Ancestor — a link to past generations and a living example of survival and resilience.
  • Buddy — a trusted pal and confidante.
  • Hero — an inspiration and even a rescuer in times of need.
  • Historian — a witness to the value of belonging to the family unit.
  • Mentor — a cheerleader who boosts dreams, growth, and self-worth.
  • Nurturer — an emotional and social safety net, especially when the family is in crisis.
  • Role Model — an example of how to behave, interact, and care for others.
  • Spiritual Guide — a compass for developing morality, principles, and beliefs.
  • Student — a willingness to learn from the younger generation and empower their leadership.
  • Teacher — an experienced instructor sharing knowledge, skills, and life lessons.
  • Wizard — a friend who enjoys imaginative play and turning the simplest tasks into something magical.

Many grandparents experience a fun phenomenon: grandchildren somehow make us feel more youthful. We have the time and the freedom to view life through the lens of a toddler and enjoy every minute of it.

On the other hand, the parents of the same preschooler may feel too stressed and stretched by life’s circumstances. If the situation reaches a breaking point, the grandparents may have to step in and take on the role of parenting their grandchildren.

Research affirms the protective role of grandparents, especially when a family is in crisis. A University of Southern California study (Silverstein & Ruiz, 2006) looked at 2,280 grandchildren with mothers who exhibited symptoms of depression.

The grandchildren who were less connected with their grandparents were more likely to have their own symptoms of depression. The grandchildren who were more integrated with their grandparents did not follow in their mother’s footsteps.

The study concluded that the following factors create a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship:

  • The child feels a sense of emotional closeness to the grandparent.
  • The child has regular contact with the grandparent.
  • The child views the grandparent as a source of social support.

When I hear my grandson call me “Nana” and I see the huge smile on his face, my heart melts, and I believe the feeling is mutual. It is amazing to realize that the bond we share passes from generation to generation, from my grandparents’ grandparents to my grandchildren’s grandchildren and beyond. The role of grandparent is truly the role of a lifetime.