Grandparents Raising Grandkids

by | Sep 20, 2010 | Uncategorized

All the job losses and foreclosures that mark the recession are contributing to a new parenting trend: 1 in 10 Grandparents now raise their children’s kids. The TODAY Weekend Edition asked me on to report on the Pew Research findings, the impact those findings may have on children, and tips for grandparents.  Here are portions of the report I gave to Lester Holt on Saturday and parenting advice for grandparents.

A new poll by Pew Research finds that the number of children being raised by their grandparents has risen sharply since the start of the recession in 2007. In fact, one in 10 grandparents now raise their childrens children. Latest statistics show that 2.9 million children are now raised by at least one grandparent or four percent of all U.S. children.

In an earlier this year, Pew said the number of households composed of multiple generations is higher than it has been in half a century. Parenting is tough enough as it is, but for grandparents who had dreams of retirement and are stepping in all over again, there are unique challenges for the new parent as well as the child.

Why the New Grandparenting Trend

How the child is impacted by this new relationship depends upon the reason for the arrangement as well as a few factors including the child’s age and temperament, the relationship between the child and grandparents, and the health, resources, and parenting abilities of the Grandparents. In the vast number of cases Grandma and Gramps are creating a far safer and more secure home environment for their grandkids.

Economic hardship recession is clearly the biggest reason for the trend. Parents lost their jobs or their homes and can’t afford to raise their children. But other factors weigh in for the shift: Unfit parenting due to drug or abuse is the second reason and the grandparents are trying to save grandkids from the foster care system. Military parents facing multiple deployments are entrusting their children to their parents. Whatever the reason, more grandparents are stepping up and stepping in to parent.

New Crop of Grandparents: Younger, Healthier, Wiser

It turns out today’s grandparent crop is the youngest and healthiest ever which is good news for the kids. Almost two-thirds of these grandparents are under 60 – their average age is 57. Because baby boomers had their first child about five years earlier than mothers today, they are the first generation of grandparents most likely to become great-grandparents. And they are taking their new parenting role very seriously, are highly committed, and most give themselves high marks.

Researchers at Stanford University suggest that older or “second time dads” may improve in their parenting and older dads are a growing trend. (Think: David Letterman, Donald Trump, Rod Stewart, Kenny Rogers, Michael Douglas, Larry King, Paul McCartney and Kevin Costner who all fathered children in their 50s, 60s or 70s-some younger than these grandparents). Findings seem to support a notion that age produces far more than just wrinkles and gray hair: wisdom and parenting priorities come with those years. A few interesting tidbits about older dads parenting:

Older dads are more involved in child rearing, more visible and want to be actively involved in childrearing.

Older dads are more nurturing, warmer, generous with affection, and more relaxed and calmer in their parenting.

Older dads are more willing to share child responsibility. In fact, three times more likely to do so than younger dads.

Tips for Grandparents In Your New Role

Center on a smooth transition. The key priority is to help the child adjust to the new living arrangement as smoothly as possible. There will be bumps so expect them. Prioritize on helping the child transition and see this as his new home. Bring what you need (bed, bedspread, his favorite dish, clothes, bureau) as well as his health and school records and personal photos to help him adjust.

Introduce yourself as the primary caregiver. Let others (parents, teachers, coaches) know your role: You are the parent. Answer those questions with pride.

Don’t stress stuff you can’t do. Forget camping out in that pup tent with your child on those scouting overnighters. (You’ll hate yourself the next morning). Playing those rough, game of hoops on the asphalt won’t do much for your knees either. Don’t stress over what you can’t do with the child. Don’t worry is your finances are tight. You’re giving your child the most priceless gift there is: a safe and loving home.

Focus on activities you can share. Attend those musical, ballgames, movies, and dinners with the kids. Find and do the things you enjoy together. Remember, kids consider T.I.M.E. together to equal love. Find those common connectors and build a relationship with your child. With age comes wisdom: older parents are more likely to focus on quality not quantity. They also know that while there are no guarantees in how their kids turn out, research proves that the strength of the parent-child relationship is the best way to raising emotionally-healthy kids. Focus on that relationship.

Keep the old, but create the new. A key goal is to create as smooth of a transition as possible and rebuild normalcy for the child. Family rituals create memories and can build security so continue past meaningful routines that are meaningful to the child (like opening presents at Christmas Eve, the special coconut birthday cake, or bedtime routines). But also create new rituals that are unique and bond him to his new family.

Preserve the child’s dignity and privacy. If there was a traumatic reason (such as parental substance abuse, incarceration, loss of a home), keep an open dialogue with the child. Better to hear those details from you than someone else. You may want to withhold more traumatic and unflattering details about the child’s parents until he is more mature.

Create a comeback. Chances are peers will ask why the child is living with you. Though a child never needs to give any personal and unflattering past family history, you may want to help create a simple explanation or “comeback” without all the sordid facts since she’s bound to be asked so she’s prepared.

Seek counseling. Watch your grandchild carefully and tune into your grandchild’s emotional needs. Chances are you and the child will need psychological services to help you deal with any trauma in his past home. Seek help of a trained mental health professional, your clergy, as well as a school counselor, nurse and school psychologist.

Get a support group. Older parents admit that one of the tougher and unique problems is that they lack a support group of parents their own age. Seek out online Grandparent Groups that are growing. AARP is another great source to offer support.

Take care of you. Parenting is tough, but especially so when you’re dealing with a traumatic situation, financial hardship and you’re older. Join a health club, get those health check-ups, and watch your diet. A healthier, happier parent always produces a happier kid.

Youngest Citizens Are Forgotten Recession Statistics

Recession is deeply impacting our society and our youngest citizens may well be forgotten statistics. Grandparents have always played a key role in child rearing, but from all indicators it seems they’ve moved far up on the “significant notch.”

On a personal note, I’ve dealt with a number of foster care cases and the grandparents were nothing short than miracle workers to the child. Grandpa and Grandma are absolute lifesavers. There are a number of lucky children who are blessed to have you in their lives.

Dr. Michele Borba, Parenting Expert