As my grandsons’ squabble increased in intensity, my husband and I looked at each other, sighed, and telepathically communicated the same message: “I’m too old for this.”
We are among the millions of American grandparents raising grandchildren, whose numbers, according to statistics, are increasing dramatically every year. How did this societal change evolve? For us and probably 90% of other grandparents raising grandchildren, it came about because our child simply gave up his or her parenting responsibilities. I was somewhat shocked but also comforted a couple of years ago when I began attending meetings of a support group for others of my ilk. I heard the same story repeated by all but one whose daughter had been tragically killed in an accident. In various scenarios, their adult children had become entwined in a lifestyle that included drugs and/or alcohol, unemployment and sometimes incarceration.
My husband and I, now circling 70, were certainly unprepared for parenting to begin with, having both been only children with no clue about sibling dynamics. We did the best we could raising three children by the seat of our pants. We were in our late 40’s, with a son still in middle school, when we realized we had to take the reins in raising our first grandchild. She was a dream child – sweet, smart, gifted and beautiful – and it didn’t take long for us, and her, to accept that she was our fourth child.
But at the same time we were in denial. When our first grandson was born 8 years later, he didn’t live with us, so we assumed our childrearing days would be over in a few years. When it became necessary for him to come live with us at age five, and we also learned that he had a brother on the way, the lightbulb above our heads burst on with crystal clarity. The odds were strong we would be responsible for children into our 80’s.
Because no friends or relatives our age, aside from a cousin who chose to adopt foster children, are in our club, we often feel alone in our journey and don’t know where to turn. That’s why I urge all grandparents in our situation to join a support group where you can talk about the mutual feelings you don’t discuss with others:
.....We’re scared. We live with the specter of looming major health and financial issues or even death, and the consequential disruption in our grandchildren’s lives.
.....We’re tired. We simply don’t have the energy to do all the running around we used to do with our kids, and all the activities of daily life – laundry, cleaning, cooking, homework, transporting, etc. – wear us out pretty fast. We’re in dire need of a regular babysitter.
.....We’re resentful. We once had dreams of a relaxing retirement, entertaining and spoiling our grandkids and then sending them on their way to a safe, healthy home. We’re angry at the adult children who created chaos in the lives of their children and their parents.
.....We’re broke. I don’t need to explain that further to any parent.
But…all negativity aside, and speaking for myself… I think I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Living with these kids has added a new, richer dimension to my life. It’s a do over. I appreciate them more acutely because I don’t have unrealistic expectations for them or myself. I am learning the importance of stopping to smell the roses. I no longer fight the trivial battles that I might once have thought important. Who cares if their socks don’t match!
Most importantly, I know how different their lives might have been had we not stepped in. I know we're doing the right thing...for them, but also for us.
doing the right thing. I can’t imagine life any other way.