The second Sunday of each September is Grandparents Day. A day to celebrate the special bond and role that grandparents hold in the tapestry called family. For some of us that celebration takes on a new and different meaning each day the sun rises. We are custodial caretakers of our grandchildren.
Raising a grandchild is hardly an enigma these days. It’s an unfortunate, stark reality. Unfortunate in that, for a myriad of reasons, children have to leave their parent’s care, most times under duress, tears and confusion and move in with their grandparents or other kinship caretakers. Drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, domestic violence are but some of the reasons a grandparent may suddenly be thrust into the position of taking their child’s child to avoid the alternative; foster care. I’ve yet to meet a grandparent, when faced with the choice, chooses the alternative. Those that do, I can only imagine, may live with anguish, guilt and fear after making the decision to place a child of their heart into a bureaucratic foster care system. I do not envy them nor pass judgment upon them.
There are approximately 3.7 million children in the U.S being raised by grandparents according to the Census Bureau’s 2006 American Community Survey, a 30 percent jump since 1990. Grandparents finding themselves in a care giving role once more are often unaware of any available resources in their state to support them and their grandchildren as they adjust to their new lifestyles. It can be a tough road alone and at a stage in your life you hadn’t planned on.
The word adjustment seems a little meager to me. Just when you started to plan a life for yourself and your spouse; just as the nest started feeling so much less empty and ever more filled with the dreams and plans envisioned decades prior. Often without warning you find yourself in the midst of a crisis with your child AND your grandchild at center stage. You become the entire supporting cast.
As the dust settles and the day to day routines are established in your new roles, the emotions unravel from that safe knot you’ve tied them in so deep within the pit of your stomach.
Anger and hurt at your own child for not living up to the dream of the person you had hoped would grow to become a responsible adult and parent.
Bitterness and resentment at a system that does not provide enough of anything for grandparents and families willing to take a child that might well have been placed on the backs of the state’s taxpayers.
Sorrow and grief for the life you had mapped out in that long awaited unspoken reward when the children you bore left to make a life of their own and you got one too.
Anxiety and worry over the financial, emotional and physical demands embodied in raising another human being at an age when mind, body and spirit are no longer energizer bunny ready.
Each emotion is true and real and so very normal. That’s the hard part, the acceptance of it all. The passage of time helps. Reaching out to family and friends is a must. Finding the community resources available to you is essential. Coming to the realization that life doesn’t always agree with your plan, no matter how well you orchestrated everything you could for the desired outcome, is crucial.
We made a choice to embrace this child and give him what our child could not. There’s not enough time or where with all to wallow in the sea of emotion that seems, at times, to drag us under. He deserves better from us. And the joy he brings to our home and family is immeasurable. He brings with him a life gift unexpected but full of new hopes, new dreams and unending possibilities.
Friends or acquaintances who learn of our second round parenting say we have a place awaiting in heaven for doing what they think they never could.
My usual reply is very simple.
“We are all ready very blessed in too many ways to list. We didn’t do this for a reservation in heaven. The big Guy sorta knew the outcome of this one before we did.”
And then I ask, “If it were your grandchild (insert name here), wouldn’t you do the same?”
I almost always get a thoughtful pause, a nod and gentle knowing smile in return.
Happy Grandparents Day…everyday!