Friday, January 7, 2011

Grandfamilies: A New Term on the Rise

by Jilly Prather

Today’s definition of “family” has been changing drastically in recent years with the advent of a new kind of family unit. Due to various reasons—such as parents having drug problems, the rise of divorce, an economy that has put millions out of work, and single moms who can no longer raise their own children—we now have a growing generation of grandparents who find themselves in the trenches of raising young grandchildren. This new phenomenon of parents depending on the grandparents to finish raising their children is also called “the skipped generation.”

As a grandparent, I once dreamed about my children leaving home to embark upon creating their own lives as independent people, having a home of their own, good jobs, and grandchildren for me to spoil and send home. Retirement was something I looked forward to, with travel plans and the freedom I felt I deserved after decades of raising my kids.

One evening a few months ago, I received a call from the police department asking if I could go pick up my 14-year-old granddaughter for an indefinite period. Of course I went quickly, as Sherry (not her real name) and I had a strong bond. I had always told her to call me if she ever needed me for any reason. I scooped her up in my arms and promised her that everything would be okay now—she was now with Grammy. I did what any other loving grandmother would do. When the grandchildren need to be saved from dangerous situations and they have no other adult to turn to, grandparents take over to provide the safety and love the child desperately lacks but needs in order to become a good adult.

In 2008, census statistics show that 6.6 million children lived with their grandparents. Of those children, 4.4 million lived in the home of a grandparent without any help or interaction from their parents (U.S. Census Bureau 2009). Those numbers are staggering and continue to increase yearly.

Older adults who once looked forward to growing a new nest of opportunities and goals now find themselves in the midst of having to start over again raising children. Many of these seniors live on a fixed income based on social security, disability or limited retirement funds that make suddenly having another child to support very difficult. In the 2008 census, the government reported that 482,000 grandparents lived below the poverty level before they became responsible for caring for grandchildren (U.S. Census Bureau 2009).
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