One of the pleasures of being a pediatrician is to be inspired by the way some parents raise their children. But what happens when there are no parents to raise children?
The portrait of the North American family is changing dramatically and skip-generation families are becoming increasingly common. A skip-generation family is one where grandparents end up as the parents rather than the biological mother or father.
Recent research published by the Pew Research Center, informs us that close to one in ten children found themselves being raised by a grandparent.
Famous people who were raised by grandparents include, Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton, Oprah, Carol Burnett, Willie Nelson, Jack Nicholson and May Angelou.
Obama’s grandmother died on the eve of his election and in his inaugural speech he referred to his grandparents by saying “My debt to them is beyond measure.”
Some couples look forward to their retirement and may even perhaps claim that they deserve it after having dedicated their lives to raising children—- only to discover they have been given a new role: another career in parenting all over again.
This provides complex challenges, but also unique opportunities. Many of these grandparents have experienced a range of emotions such as mourning the loss of their adult child, resentment toward the adult child, anger, guilt, fear and disappointment that their future will not unfold as planned.
Isolation and a sense of not knowing what to do next, led a group of local grandparents to band together and provide resources for skip-generation families. Grandparents in the Calgary area now have access to fabulous resources such as a handbook published by the Children’s Link Society in January 2016. The Lasting Legacy Handbook is available from the Children’s Link website (www.childrenslink.ca)
In the handbook, written by grandparents who personally experienced what it is like to take on a second round of parenting, there are practical ideas and resources on how to cope with this often unexpected shift and adjustment which requires a great degree of stamina, persistence, patience, compassion, tolerance and love.
This new role for grandparents often lands on their lap by default, because they did not want their grandchildren to end up in the foster-care system. Many of these grandparents when asked about themselves, said that there is nothing special about themselves—they are just doing what needs to be done.
Issues that need to be navigated range from dealing with a legal system, seeking financial aid, learning how to protect a marriage, adjusting to change, setting new expectations, dealing with the lack of involvement of the biological parents, caring even for multiple grandchildren, delaying retirement plans, helping the grandchild with emotional issues, and seeking a sense of community and hope during a time of testing.
The Lasting Legacy handbook asked grandparents to list some of the rewards associated with raising grandchildren and at the top of the list was a sense of comfort in knowing that the grandchildren were safe and stable. Grandparents also listed the following as being rewarding: seeing the grandchildren progress into loving adults; witnessing the kids’ enthusiasm; being able to make a difference; feeling more youthful; having grandchildren express appreciation to the grandparents; having quality time with the grandchild and experiencing positive feelings associated with both giving and receiving.
Some grandparents saw this task as a sacred duty. One such a grandparent, Elaine Williams, wrote a book The Sacred Work of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (Balboa Press 2011) Another book refers to how much courage this task involves and is titled, Raising Our Children’s Children: Room in the Heart It discusses the spiritual dimensions of truly caring.
The term “grandfamily” is coined in a recent book published by the SHARE Project, a project inspired by grandparents and grandchildren living in Calgary. For more information on this project and the book “Our Grandfamily: A Flip-Sided Book About Grandchildren Being Raised By Grandparents” see www.friesenpress.com/bookstore
Online resources mentioned in the Lasting Legacy Handbook are www.facesforalberta.com which represents Forever Adoption Community Education Services and www.psa.calgary.ab.ca, a parent support association which provides weekly peer support group meetings for grandparents.
The Lasting Legacy Handbook is filled with hope-giving quotations. Two quotations, which personally best summed it up for me as a clinician interacting with these heroes, were the words uttered by Helen Keller: “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of overcoming it” and a quote from an unknown author, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart.”
DR. NIEMAN IS A COMMUNITY-BASED PEDIATRICIAN, AUTHOR, AND THE HOST OF WWW.HEALTHYKIDS.CA DR. NIEMAN RECENTLY COMPLETED HIS 100TH MARATHON. HE ALSO WORKS AT THE CALGARY WEIGHT MANAGEMENT CENTER, HELPING FAMILIES TO REACH THEIR IDEAL WEIGHT.