Young adults moving back in with their parents during this economic downturn has become a common news story, but another, much less covered but just as significant story, is that of the growing number of grandchildren living with their grandparents. Over 5.8 million children (7.9% of all children under 18 in the U.S.) are living in their grandparent's home; one million are living solely with their grandparents, with no parent in the home. Some of this has certainly been caused by the economic downturn, foreclosures and the loss of jobs, but some is the outcome of addiction and the loss of parental rights. Regardless of the reasons, more than 2.5 million Grandparents are stepping in to take on the role of providing a home and raising their grandchildren. For them, celebrating Grandparents Day this Sunday is not just a day to play at the park, but another day to do the real work of raising a child.
What type of effect does this have on older Americans, many of which have their own medical and financial concerns when met with this new responsibility? According to Tyrone Cain, an advocate for grandparents and trainer for Grandparents As Parents (GAP), many dip into their own retirement to support their grandkids making them even more financially vulnerable as they age. At the same time they tend to isolate themselves, remaining silent, feeling a sense of stigma for the economic or family problems they are experiencing. Organizations like GAP, and others throughout the country, provide resources and support groups for grandparents, fostering a community of caregivers.
Nurturing a community of "Grandfamilies" through this and other services creates a safe space to share the challenges of raising grandchildren and of aging. GAP offers workshops with speakers from various Area Agencies on Aging provide information on different types of assistance available to seniors. Many of the caregivers are on the verge of needing care of their own. These workshops help build a body of knowledge and resources available to them as they age and enter into retirement. These grandparents have unique considerations as they age, including insuring the safety and stability of their grandchildren as well as supporting and preparing them for school and adulthood.
One key service offered is assistance in maneuvering through the court and foster care system. Mr. Cain's official title with GAP is Navigator, and that's exactly what he does for the families he works with, assisting them to navigate the paperwork, the courts and connect them with legal advisors. His reward is knowing he is not only helping a fellow grandparent but also assisting in providing a stable and loving environment for a child.
The world of raising a child has changed significantly from when many grandparents raised their own children, 15-25 years earlier. They have to re-learn the ins-and-outs of the process at a very different stage in their lives. There are new distractions and obstacles to raising children. AARP provides on-line stories, resources, and community message boards where seniors can share their stories and offer advice.
Multi-generational households and grandparents caring for their grandchildren has always been part of the American family landscape. With the rapid growth of "Grandfamilies," this tradition is cementing itself into the fabric of 21st century family life. The key is making sure these families have the social and financial support they require to flourish, and truly have a Happy Grandparents Day.
- AARP GrandCare
- Grandparents As Parents
- National Committee of Grandparents for Children's Rights
- Find resources in your state