I went to my monthly support group for relative caregivers recently. For 1 1/2 hours we come together for one common purpose, raising our grandchildren or another relatives child and for that short time we feel heard and understood.
We all are pretty isolated in our own lives. Distance, jobs, lack of time and raising little one’s that zap extra energy, keep us from getting together outside of group. I drive 45 minutes to attend and others live in different directions.
Listening to these other grandparents talk about the same issues that we deal with, helps me to realize that we do not walk this road alone. Hearing them express their own guilt, frustrations, hurt,sadness, exhaustion, isolation, worries, and nightmares with adult children is heart breaking yet it leaves me with a better perspective.
Listening to everyone share, reminded me that even though this is becoming more common, many of us still feel isolated and misunderstood. Many of us still hide in shame.
In 2000, it was estimated that 6.5 million children in the US, or one in 12 children (8%), are living in relative-headed households. Of these, 2.4 million children, or 3.3% of the children in the United States, are living in relatives’ homes without either parent present. That was 10 years ago and I am told these numbers are much higher now.
Many of us are alone and isolated because we don’t know anyone else doing what we are doing in our own communities. Most of don’t have friends that have little one’s. Most of us struggle with fitting in with people in our own age group because most of them have no desire to have people with little one’s over to their houses, let alone wanting to come over to our homes that are now filled with toys and noise.
People our age are passed needing babysitters, bedtimes or helping with homework. The people with young children, are young and don’t seem to have a desire to hang out with older people like us because they can’t get past the age difference.
Most of us are trying to fit in jobs, keeping up our homes which include cooking, cleaning and laundry, maintaining relationships with our other children and grandchildren, along with this task of caring for little one’s, or young one’s that need help with homework or teenagers that are dating and learning how to drive a car. Balancing all of this at an older age, comes with it’s own set of challenges.
Most of us struggle with our children or step children that have put us in this position. Many of us struggle with resenting them and often times end up being estranged from them. Many of us worry about our children or step children and the choices they continue to make.
We struggle with guilt over where we went wrong. We blame ourselves for the bad choices our children have made because we must have done something wrong right? We compare them to our other children that are living well and have made better choices.
When other people, especially those close to us, talk negatively or put down our children or step children it hurts us. They are still our children.
Many struggle with things being so different from when we raised our own children. Many struggle with feeling badly for their grandchildren so don’t discipline the way we should because they feel sorry for them. Many work hard to make up for the loss these children have experienced and spoil them with giving them everything they want.
Often times we are judged and feel misunderstood. Often times we don’t know how to explain to others why we have our grandchildren. Or why some of our grandchildren now call us Mommy and Daddy.
Some are in their 70’s and 80’s, still working because they need the income to raise their grandchildren. Some are younger like my husband and I are and people assume because we are younger, they are our children by birth.
Many of us struggle financially to keep up. While there is some help, depending on the state you live in, it is not very much. Ironically if we were not related to these children we would get a lot more money to help with their care. The woman that leads this support group told us that grandparents and other relative care givers save the government and it’s tax payers a lot of money by doing what we are doing.
Many of us have ongoing legal battles which drain the savings accounts or any extra money. Daycare costs, and the extra things children need were not things we thought we would be spending our money on at this time in life.
Yet, most of us are doing it quite willingly because we love our grandchildren and our children that birthed them. We do it because we want to see our grandchildren happy, safe and loved. We do it because we want the very best for them.
Most of us start out raising our grandchildren because we want to help our children and think we will be helping out for a short time. Most of us don’t go into this thinking it will be permanent but often times it is. Most of us don’t expect that our grandparent role will become one of being Daddy and Mommy but for some of us it does.
All of these things cause us to be isolated. Sometimes it is easier to hide then to face all the looks or questions or judgment. Sometimes it is just too hard to get our friends and families to understand what we are doing, let alone strangers or acquaintances.
Yet most of us are happy to be doing what we are doing. We choose to do this task willingly in spite of the exhaustion and the sacrifice this means to our lives. We experience the same daily joys and happiness that traditional families experience. We may be older and more tired but we are just as happy.
Doing this balancing act at an older age does come with some benefits. We have wisdom of having parented before so we know a few tricks that newer parents haven’t learned yet. We are a little more relaxed. We know which battles to choose and which to let go. We may be more tired then younger parents but we go into this task with experience.
Most of us never planned on playing the role of parent again. We did not intentionally take our grandchildren away from our children or step children because we wanted to play house. Most likely it was them manipulating us parents to raise their children, without any rights. The problems come when we choose to stand up to them, because we want some rights to keep our grandchildren's rights to a safe, loving and consistent home. Our children or step children are not victims of us mean grandparents. As much as we may be victimized by our children, the only real victims here are the children.
We have been raising little man and little lady for over 4 years now. That is all of little lady’s life and most of little man’s. My step daughter is the one that choose this. She is the one that handed them to us, after we had already been caring for them 90% of the time. She is the one that claimed she never wanted to be a mother. She is the one that flew away to another state to get her life together and to do so gave us custody. To only turn around and fight us in court again. Thankfully, here in Minnesota, judges rule in favor of grandparents and other relative caregivers, when it’s in the best interest of the children.
One of the worst feelings in the world is fighting your own child or step child in court over the best interest of your grandchildren.
We have full custody of them and that will not change unless we choose to hand them back to her. My step daughter has a list of things that must happen before she has custody and so far she has done none of them. If she decided to take us back to court to get custody, she would have a hard time finding a judge here in Minnesota, that would change it. In Minnesota, once custody is established and been maintained over time, unless a good cause against us relative caregivers can be proven to change it, judges won’t change it.
We do not bad mouth my step daughter, nor do we keep her from them. We have pictures up of her in our home. We do not allow her in our home at this time because of the negative affects it has had on the little’s due to her behavior in the past. At this time she has supervised visits with them, away from our home, but they are not frequent.
As angry as she can make me, I still credit her for loving them enough to hand them over to people she knew would love and care for them.
The hardest thing in dealing with my step daughter is her victim mentality. No matter what happens or gets said, she thinks everything is against her. She takes responsibility for nothing. The next hardest is her “It’s all about me.” thought process. While most people, when they become parents change this, she didn’t. When we become parents it becomes about the innocent little one’s needs. She has struggled to understand this concept.
For all those that wonder, we did as much as we possibly could to help her to succeed as a Mommy. We encouraged and supported her. I knew even before I married her father, that something was wrong. I denied that feeling inside of me. When she gave birth to little lady she showed no emotions or bond with her. When it only got worse and not any better, I tried to believe it would get better. Obviously it didn’t.
At this point, since they have been with us for so long, it is very unlikely that we will hand them back to her. After the last time in which we allowed her to take them without supervision(over a year ago), they came back to us emotionally hurting. She said many inappropriate things to them but one of the things she told them was that she was going to do the things she needed to do and get them back from us. (Which would have been fine and dandy if she actually meant it and did something about it but she didn’t.) Little man cried every night for weeks after she said this to them. Saying things like, “I don’t want to leave my Mommy and Daddy.” And “I’m scared I’m going to have to leave you.”
They have bonded with us completely. They started calling us Mommy and Daddy a couple of years ago but they also know we are their grandparents. After consulting with a counselor about this issue, she helped me to see how important and healthy it is for little children to have a Mommy and a Daddy.
They know their birth Mommy whom they call the “other Mommy”. We are what they know. This home is what they know as home. We are committed to doing this long term because at this point we worry that losing the only home and family they really know, would have negative affects on them.
I will not lie. I had hoped and prayed that she would have done all the right things and gotten them back by now. We did not need two more kids but two kids surely needed us.
Two kids that needed a Mommy and a Daddy to fall completely in love with them and give them the safe, happy and healthy home they deserve.
Now that we’ve completely fallen in love with them, it makes it all harder and more complicated. The longer they have been with us, they have become our children. Yet, it is all about them, not their birth Mommy and not about us.
We will continue to fight for the little’s and make the best possible decisions for their best interest. If my step daughter were to get her life together at some point in the future, we will likely consult with a professional to figure out what would be the best for the little’s. If she never gets her life together we are committed to being Daddy and Mommy for the long haul.
This has been a painful yet joyful journey that we have taken on with all of our hearts. Just as many other grandparent’s, aunts, uncles and even cousins are taking, in every community and state across our country. To those of you that live outside of the United States, is this an issue where you live?
My hope is that more people could be educated about this subject and reach out positively to those that have taken on this role. It is a lonely road to travel and your words of encouragement or acts of support would mean a lot to those in this position.
Thank you for reading this long post about a subject very sensitive to my heart. I am trying to break the silence so that those of us that hide in shame can stop being so isolated and lonely.
As always, thank you for listening.
Hope your Monday is marvelous.
Until next time, hugs & love, Lori