"Life affords no greater responsilbity, or privilege, than the raising of the next generation."
- C. Everett Koop, U.S. Surgeon General, 1982-1989
According to trends documented by the US Census Bureau in the recently-completed 2010 Census, millions of grandparents are taking that quote literally to heart and home with a second go-around at parenting.
In December of 2010, the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) reported that nearly five million chlidren under the age of 18 lived at a grandparent's home without a biological parent present, a figure that has more than doubled since 1970, when the US Census Bureau estimated the number at 2.2 million, or approximately 3.2 percent of the nation's children. These kids represent a new domestic demographic called "grandfamilies" that face unique challenges, as described below.
"(It is) hard for me to separate being a parent and grandparent (wanting to spoil the grandkids) and not being able to," laments Ronda B. in the Mums Over 40 With Children Of All Ages community.
These challenges are echoed by Karen Best Wright, author of the blog Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Wright has eight grown children and 12 grandchildren. For seven years, she was the sole provider for three granddaughters until their mother (Wright's daughter) was able to resume her role as full-time caregiver.
"As grandparents, we may have no mental, emotional or financial preparation when we begin raising these children. It can be daunting," she writes on her blog. "Everything from needing diapers and formula, an appropriate car seat for the toddler, and furniture such as cribs and bunk beds, to dealing with an ill child with health and medical concerns—may need to be immediately addressed."
Wright began to care for her three grandaughters in the fall of 2002, a responsibility that began abruptly with an emergency phone call and a long car ride in the middle of the night. The girls were four, two, and two months old. Wright spent the first night in the hospital with the youngest, who was on a heart monitor, learning how to care for a child who had been born premature and still weighed in at only five pounds.
This kind of drama and intensity is far from unusual. Shirley P., who is raising a grandson with her husband, reports in Mums Over 40 With Children Of All Ages that "We got him when he was 20 months old after his parents put him in (foster) care at five weeks (old)," and that legally transitioning the child into their care was a long and costly process. The kicker is that both of the child's biological parents then moved on to new relationships and new children, and maintain only the most frustrating kind of contact with her grandchild: the on again/off again type. "I wish they would just get out of our lives for good and stop messing our grandson's head up," she laments.
Laura G. empathizes. She too has come to resent the parents of a child she now calls her own. "We are raising our granddaughter," she shares. "She came to me at two hours old. I am her mother. She calls me mommy. Sometimes her birth parents show up and call themselves mom and dad. I can't help but to feel mad. I'm the one here for her 24/7 from teething to night terrors. They act like it's a game."
According to AARP journalist Amy Goyer, this all takes a toll: "For these grandparents, raising another family wasn't part of the plan. But they step up to the plate when their loved ones need them. Most of these grandparents will tell you they gain great joy from their role. But they also face financial, health, housing, education and work challenges that often foil their retirement plans."
Debbie R., who is raising a stepgrandaughter, knows this dilemna all too well, buut manages to put an optimistic spin on it. Her own two biological children are out of the nest, but she and her husband are still waiting for the nest to empty: "We're still young," she writes on the Circle of Moms Welcome Page. "We'll get our time together soon enough."
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.