I think the official term is “kinship care” or something like that. Grandparents have been raising their children’s children for a very long time. There are all sorts of circumstances that lead up to grandparents becoming “surrogate” parents for grandchildren. War, poverty, death of parents, abuse and neglect, mental illness, teen pregnancy, military deployment and more reasons than I can count.
My own grandmother was more of a mother to me than my own. My mother was alive and well but was unable to show me affection. While I was not with her daily, grandmother raised me from a distance and during the few weeks I was put in her care during summer vacation. They were always the most amazing times in my life where I felt wanted and almost whole.
I have met other women who took on this very important role. When I lived in Pamlico a loving Korean woman raised two biological children to adulthood and then decided she was going to adopt a little girl that was abandoned. She had Korean lineage and being an orphan herself, she felt a kinship to this beautiful innocent child. A few years later her daughter had an unwanted pregnancy and was prepared to put the child up for adoption. The Grandmother stepped up and said she would take her but that the daughter would be HERS. I loved the boundaries she set forth – it really helped the child not to have to go back and forth. Later in young adulthood, the girl finally did discover the truth and had an amiable relationship with her birth mother but never forgot who raised her. The Grandmother was not rich nor in the best of health, but she managed to raise both girls into adulthood.
More recently, when my youngest was in Kindergarten (was that really over five years ago? Yikes!) I met a young grandmother who found out her granddaughter had been put up for foster care. She was beside herself. Who in the world would put a child in foster care when there was a set of healthy, capable grandparents who could care for her? No matter what the circumstances were, I can tell you that she moved heaven and hell to get legal custody of that tiny girl. The girl and my youngest daughter became fast friends. Having been through trauma as a child myself, I recognized some of the brokenness the child and I had in common. For the past five years we all became close and I’ve watched this scared little girl become a confident, sassy teen.
I am not shaming the mother in either circumstance. Shit happens. Life throws you things you just can’t handle. But I am exalting the grandparents for doing something I don’t think I would want to do. I am staring down the barrel of the end of parenting. My youngest turns 12 on June 1, the oldest is turning 16 in November. I have maybe a good 6 years left and I will happily be an empty nester. These grandparents did not hesitate for a second before picking up the parenting baton for the SECOND time. That is some legit bad-assery right there!
There are a ton of complicated feelings relationship dynamics that arise when grandparents raise their grandchildren. Are they still just grandma? Are they now mama? Are they both? Do the husbands feel the same way or are they resentful? What happens between the child’s biological mother and the grandmother? This road is not for everyone and is not always successful.
The legal difficulties alone would keep me away. Obtaining custody or guardianship is not cut and dry. It must be done so the grandparents can enroll the kids in school, get medical care and so much more. The grandchildren will likely have emotional, behavioral or even physical difficulties. On top of that the grandparents, depending on age, may have limited energy or physical health problems of their own. Their social time is also taken up by the new child. There is a lot more than meets the eye when grandparents take a child in to rear.
On top of focusing on the grandchild’s needs, the grandparents may be struggling with their own complicated feelings. Did THEY do a bad job or raising their child? How do they feel about their own child’s shortcomings as a parent? There is a lot of grief and mental anguish in this role. There are some upsides. Some grandparents feel younger being involved in the day to day activities with their grandchildren. I am very close to a grandmother who is only a few years my senior. She is young and outgoing and most people thing we are the same age and we are both naturally parents to our soon to be 12 year olds. Her granddaughter is well adjusted and has come a very long way in dealing with her emotions.
If you are a grandparent who is raising a grandchild I want to tip my hat to you. Thank you for filling in the holes in that child’s heart. Thank you for stepping up when it is probably time for you to slow down and take it easy. Thank you for having enough love in your heart to share with a child that needs it so much. My grandmother helped me to become a better woman and I know you are making an immeasurable impact on your grandchild. Bravo!