The growing number of grandfamilies: who’s bringing up the grandbabies?

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

20140903_111435“The day we found out our daughter was pregnant,” says Dionna Harding, “is the day we decided she and her baby would both be living in our house.  Family is supposed to do that.”

Six years later, their grandfamily household includes their now 22-year old daughter and her two children, and their 16 year old son.  “It’s exciting, every day is different.”

According to the US Census Bureau,  6% of children live in households run by grandparents, that’s about 1 in 10 kids in America.  Sometimes grandma comes to live with the family, sometimes the grandkids live with their grandparents, sometimes it’s the grandkids and their parents at grandma’s house. These kinds of families, coined grandfamilies, have grown by about one-third in the past generation,  primarily due to the economy and sometimes because of culture.

SDT-grandparents-new-01The Pew Research Center analyzed this data and found that grandchildren living with and being cared for by their grandparents “rose rapidly after the onset of the recession in 2007 and have stabilized since 2009, when the recession officially ended.”  Stabilized?  That depends.  When some grandparents retire, they may choose to move closer to their grown kids to help care for their grandkids.  My parents actually moved into the flat underneath us in San Francisco and did exactly that for our three sons for a number of years.  For some families their adult children’s divorce or break-up, unemployment, out-of-wedlock birth, or incarceration presents them with in interesting dilemma.  And their choice, ‘bring it on.’

jpegWhen the daughter of Karen Best Wright of Houston became unable to care for her children, Wright stepped in and took care of her three granddaughters for more than six years before returning them back to their mother.  The experience was so poignant, she wrote a book I Love you from the Edges, Lessons From Raising Grandchildren.  

Wright’s book includes suggestions on how to step into this journey of raising someone else’s child, knowing that this most likely won’t last forever.  As a result, she also designed a health and wellness assessment program specifically for grandparents raising grandkids.

Some of you might be scratching your head and asking, “Isn’t this supposed to be the time when grandparents get to dote on their grandkids and then go home and leave the children with their parents?”

Writing in AARP magazine, Barbara Graham lists 10 joys of being a grandmother, and one of those joys is right along the lines of the question above:
I come and go as I please. This is one of those rumors about grandparenting that turns out to be blissfully true. I treasure my visits with les petites, but I’m a better Nonna  when I pay attention to my own limits. There’s a reason why most people have babies in their 20s and 30s, not at age 58 or 63.

For grandfamilies, this is not the case.  People ranging in age from their 40s to their 70s are now finding their responsibilities increasing, and instead of slowing down they’re facing new financial, emotional and physical pressures.

20141219_214945But for grandmothers like Harding, she embraces this phase of life.  “I’m there to fall back on, sometimes I let my kids fall, but then I’m there to show them how to get back up. My mom didn’t have her mom to fall back on her and she had a hard time.  Now we live close to both my mom and my husband’s parents, and we all help each other out.”

I wonder out loud if some of us make it too easy on our grown kids.  Harding responds, “in some areas, probably yes.  Sometimes I know my daughter could figure something out but I’ve been there before so I just do it.  I should stop that.  But overall, I believe we’re family, what else are we supposed to do?”

20140710_232815Harding wears many hats:  wife, mother, grandmother and business owner.  You’ve got to schedule any time to reach her, because she’s made priorities that allow her to multi task her grandfamily lifestyle.  Here is her philosophy for making it work:

  1. Pray!Without this, Harding says all her stress would hit the ceiling.
  2. Know when to let go.There are certain things her kids and her grandkids must do on their own, and she says if you pay attention, you too will know when it’s time.
  3. Don’t go back and pick it up.Once you let go, really let go and let your kids and grandkids figure it out

It wasn’t always this clear to her.  “One day I was praying and I said, ‘God, I can’t do all this, my work will suffer.’ He told me to do what I could to help him out with the kids and he’d help me out with my work. Now,” she says, “people are calling me! I know where that came from.”

In their grandfamily, “I have my boundaries,” says Harding, “you have to.  But there are no limits on love.  I believe in the gift of life and relationships.”  Who’s bringing up the grandbabies? “We all are,” she smiles.                                                                                                                                                                                     

Lois’ Living Through It blogs are posted on Mondays and Thursdays.  Join her Monday mornings around 8:45am on Good Day Colorado.