Denise - posted on 06/13/2009 ( no moms have responded yet )
Second Time Parent – Grandmother as Mother.
I would be remiss if I did not address this growing family phenomenon. In the United States there are 70% of homes where children are being raised by their grandparent – that is the homes that are actually reported . The single black parent home is also comprised of a grandmother raising her grandchildren. Whether it is the result of incarceration, drug addiction, enlisting in the armed services, employment relocation, medical/mental illness or homicide, black grandmothers are finding themselves as second time around parents.
My own mother – whom I affectionately call my ‘Honey Pot’ has been in my son’s life since his birth – she was one of my labor coaches (I had two). In my eyes of total love and adoration, I view my mother as still being young and immortal – in reality my mother is 66 years old, on a fixed income and she is a hypertensive diabetic with arthritis and a slew of little health issues. I have my mother designated in my will as having total guardianship/custody of my son if anything should happen to me. Ironically, I NEVER considered my mother’s health and finances to handle such a responsibility.
Many of us don’t make this consideration – black women have ALWAYS and CONTINUE to be the pillars of strength in families – as my mother is. Her continued dedication and presence in my son’s I lives is constantly taken for granted out of love. As of 2000, there are 4.5 million children being raised by extended family for the reasons already listed with 13% of African American children living with their grandparents . Rather than see their own blood kin fall into the system; these people step up and step out for these children, their grandchildren regardless of the negative impact on their finances, health and safety.
Grandmothers as second time parents face many more challenges that are exacerbated by age, medical condition, technology, finances and the legal system. Grandmothers raising children of their children are facing their own needs as well as the needs of a child, adolescent or teenager. Combine today’s generation with a person over the age of 65 with co-morbidities living on a fixed income and what do you have? CHALLENGES! Here are two examples:
Marlene is 54 and is a degree holding professional, married and has a lovely home and a steady income. Marlene’s only daughter at age 27 has a child – by age 5 this child, a boy has experienced several episodes of neglect, the biological father is in jail for 6-10 years. The mother has been deemed unfit by family court for repeated neglect and the mother also now has mental health issues. Marlene is living a comfortable, hard earned lifestyle with her husband of 20 years. Now Marlene is faced with her only grandson being placed in foster care – what do to?
Marlene takes guardianship of her only grandchild at age 5. Mike is a very bright boy who has no boundaries and is also categorized as needing Special Education. Marlene shifts her entire life and household around to accommodate this 5 year old child: her home has enough rooms, school and childcare is arranged, and Marlene’s husband jumps right in on sharing the responsibilities of everything from doctor’s visits to baseball practice & games, birthday parties, vacations and outings to the movies.
Mike is now 11 years old and thriving in a stable, safe home that Marlene and her husband has provided with very little help from the government in supporting the cost of maintaining guardianship: clothes, food, school materials, camp, baseball, basketball and any other enrichment activities, including tutoring. Medical care is provided by Medicaid – the rest of the cost is coming from Marlene’s retirement savings. Marlene also has to pay for legal representation every time she is summoned to family court. The irony of all of this – Mike’s parents can contest custody and take Mike from Marlene after 6 years of hard work, time and money invested – with Marlene not seeing a dime of reimbursement. Marlene has never experienced any kind of physical violence from Mike.
Now imagine if Marlene was 15 years older (69), has a few medical illnesses (diabetes & hypertension), widowed and lives on a fixed income. Marlene would be juggling finances to afford caring for a child as well as her medications not covered by Medicare. Marlene would be exhausted trying to keep up with curfews, homework, pediatric visits, therapy appointments, family court appearances as well as her own medical demands of dietary needs, doctors visits, body fatigue and response to stressors as well as the NEED to rest. All of this makes successful parenting under these conditions a miracle – yet these grandmothers as parents manage to make it work time and time again.
Now, add in the demands of a child, adolescent, teenager who becomes rebellious and refuses structure and boundaries and resents having to live with a “Sick old person with no money.” This child/adolescent/teenager becomes resentful and violent – hitting, cursing and outright disrespecting the very person who stood up for them.
Domestic Violence is a common, growing outcome of the above scenario. As far back as 1999, a scientific study was conducted with 102 grandmothers raising grandchildren in parent absent homes – the outcome of this study certified: The findings indicate that family resources, social support, and physical health affected psychological distress in grandmothers raising grandchildren. Grandmothers who reported fewer resources, less social support, and poorer physical health tended to experience higher levels of psychological distress. This study suggests that greater attention be given to interventions aimed to decrease psychological distress and improve the financial resources and physical health of grandmothers raising grandchildren .
This distress is extended to the children of the household as well. Without supervision or boundaries, these children are more likely to drop out of school, use street drugs, have teen pregnancies and commit domestic violence against the grandmother.
Solution: Public assistance must be provided to these grandmothers as parents as well as medical assistance. To believe that a retirement check, Medicare or Social Security can cover the cost of raising a child as well as the cost of living and the cost of being elderly with an illness is certifiably ridiculous. Schools have to change their outreach and assessments to include this growing family dynamic. Medical health professionals also need to incorporate questions of family dynamics in their health assessments. It is not enough to punish the offending child who commits domestic violence against the grandmother – we have to stop it before it begins. Foster parents receive monetary compensation for caring for children – why not financially support the blood kin who step forward to help?
Below are some links to obtaining information on where to get help:
Children's Defense Fund
Kids Are Waiting Campaign
AARP Grandparent Information Center
Child Welfare League of America
. Grandparents Being Parents
Grandmothers Filling the Void Left by Their Children Allow Primetime to Document the Challenges They Face By JON MEYERSOHN and CYNTHIA McFADDEN. Feb. 27, 2007 ABC Primetime. Internet retrieval May 17, 2009.
. Grandparents Raising Grandchildren . Amy Goyer, Coordinator, AARP Foundation Grandparent Information Center. Publish Date: February 1, 2006. Internet retrieval May 17, 2009.
. Psychological distress in grandmother kinship care providers: the role of resources, social support, and physical health. Susan J Kelleya, Deborah Whitleyb, Theresa Ann Sipec and Beatrice Crofts Yorkerd. February, 2000. Internet retrieval May 17, 2009.