In a previous post, Grandparenting-Taking Advantage of the Upside, the traditional role of the grandparent was discussed. The pleasure derived from being a grandparent without most of the heavy burdens associated with parenting. But, at an increasing rate, grandparents are now being asked to shoulder those parenting responsibilities. Grandparents having to step into the role of principle caregivers for their grandchildren is not a new phenomenon. Grandparents raising grandchildren is as old as we are. However, what is changing is the magnitude of the phenomena and its root causes. An escalating trend that is not likely to be reversed within the foreseeable future.
Although difficult to quantify, it is estimated that there are somewhere between 3 and 5 million children currently living—on a full time basis—with their grandparents. That would equate to 5% to 6% of all kids up to the age of 18. That staggering number does not include the vast number of children who may primarily reside with their parent(s) but still rely on grandparents for a significant portion of their care. A decade ago it was ~3%. The trend is sobering and shows no sign of abatement. In many ways the trend has been silent. Much of what is happening is cloaked in the secrecy and privacy that governs family life.
Several socioeconomic forces are at work. Most of those issues have plagued our society for several generations. What is changing is the breadth and depth of the impact of those forces. Drug addiction—particularly opioid and methamphetamine—, mental health issues and escalating suicide rates have all impacted large swaths of our young and middle-aged populace. Many of those affected deteriorate to the point of becoming totally unfit for the task of raising their children and, therefore, child custody is lost.
A more recent contributor is the problem of prolonged adolescence. Young adults that are either unwilling or incapable of discarding the frivolities of youth and accepting the roles and responsibilities of full adulthood. For some, having a child shocks them out of their adolescent stupor. For others, children are an impediment to their ability to continue their immature and selfish indulgences. This often leads to passive neglect or, in more severe cases, outright abuse. In more benign cases the parents are simply unable to provide financial support for their children.
Grandparents have always been, and will always be, the primary safety net. Governmental programs do exist but most are under-funded, inefficient, and often harsh in their own inevitable realities.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren – The Sacrifices
Look around you with some attention and you will likely see a few of those grandparents that are raising those 3 to 5 million grandchildren. Many do it willingly and with a glad heart. Some welcome the reprieve from being “empty-nester’s”. Other grandparents accept the responsibility out of a sense of duty and the knowledge that they represent the best—and maybe last—hope of their grandchildren. Regardless of the specific circumstances the majority of these grandparents have had to shelve many of their own personal aspirations. Plans for retirement have either been delayed or cancelled. Financial security has often been negatively impacted and, in many cases, the grandparents themselves have been cast into dire economic stress. The day-in, day-out demands create stress and pressure that can take a toll on physical and emotional health. Relationships with their own children are often permanently damaged.
To all grandparents that are shouldering the responsibility of raising your grandchildren. To those that have had to sacrifice the more burden-free role of the traditional grandparent…….
You are too often unsung. We owe you our respect. You deserve our admiration.
You should be saluted……