A Profile of Older Americans (2012) revealed that over 480,000 grandparents had primary parenting responsibility for their grandchildren who lived with them. AARP cited that over 2.5 million grandparents are helping with the responsibility of raising their grandchildren, and 7.8 million children live in homes owned by their grandparents. These statistics represent a growing trend in American culture.
I have several friends who have raised or are raising their grandchildren in their own home. Some have formally adopted their grandchildren. Others share parenting responsibilities with one or both parents. All of them share the common feeling that this is a blessing, not a burden, but that raising grandchildren in later life does have its challenges.
Whatever the circumstances that brought grandchildren into the home of their grandparents to be raised, it can come as a shock to the older adults who find themselves in this situation.
Here are some beginning considerations to raising your grandchildren in your own home.
Impact of aging
Older adults who are assuming primary responsibility for children should “cut themselves some slack”. Don’t feel that you have to do everything as if you were a first-time parent in your 20’s. Remember that you may be parenting, but your body knows that you are still a grandparent. You may have to limit the children’s activities because keeping up with the driving and multiple schedules is too difficult. The good news is that many grandparents in this situation are retired, so both Grandma and Grandpa can help with the kids. This teamwork might not have been possible with your own children because one or both of you were working, but now you can share the duties such as driving kids to school or sports practices, helping with homework, and taking them to doctor appointments. If the children are school age, allow yourself extra time to rest and relax during the day so that after school you have the energy required for these new-again activities with the grandkids. If needed, enlist the help of other family members or friends to help by giving you a break on occasion. Keep in mind that maintaining your own health is especially important if you have young ones depending on you.
Expenses and Education
Many older adults are on a fixed income and may not have planned to care for grandchildren. Your financial plan for retirement might need an overhaul with additional family members in the household. Several organizations have worked cooperatively to compile resources for grandparents in this situation. National and state fact sheets have been developed to link grandparents with key resources in their area. You can find out about resources available to help you at http://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/grandfacts-sheets/ .These helpful fact sheets list local programs, public benefits, key state laws, and contact information for national resources. There may be funding or tax breaks to help with living or educational expenses.
Records and immunizations
It’s important to keep important documents together in one safe place. This includes birth certificates, legal papers, report cards, baptismal papers etc… Keeping a log or journal of important events is also a good strategy, especially when caring for multiple children. There are a number of immunizations for children today that were not available or required when you parented your own children. Immunizations are often free at your county health department, but can be very expensive at the doctor’s office. The health department can tell you what your child needs and when, and will help you by providing an immunization record that will need to be kept up for school. The CDC has a helpful chart of recommended immunizations for birth to 6 years that can be found at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/parents/downloads/parent-ver-sch-0-6yrs.pdf A summary of vaccinations for birth to age 18 can be found at http://www.immunize.org/catg.d/p2010.pdf
Enjoy your Grand Family
Despite the obvious challenges of raising grandchildren in your older years, most grandparents describe the many joys that come with this new adventure. Grandparents share a special bond with their grandchildren, and when sharing a home together, that bond can be strengthened. Grandparents can share the wisdom of their experience with this younger generation and have the opportunity to shape their lives for the better. If you are new to this second round of parenting, AARP offers a helpful guide with tips to GrandFamilies, as they call them. These can be found at Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Growing Trend