Ain't Parenting Grand?
June 4, 2001 -- A few weeks ago 3-year-old Ryan Butts
celebrated a major accomplishment: He made a peanut butter sandwich by himself
-- with no help from "Mom," who was watching from an arm's length away in their
Mountain Home, Ark., kitchen. Geri Butts, 54, says witnessing that culinary
feat was a special moment she would have missed if she and her husband David,
49, hadn't decided to become parents to their grandson, Ryan.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 3.9 million American
children under the age of 18 live in 2.5 million households headed by
grandparents. For about 1.4 million of those children, the only parental figure
is a grandparent.
Nonetheless, Butts says many grandparents who find themselves
"suddenly parents" are "still in the closet. They don't want to talk about the
situation," she says.
Many of these grandparents are still dealing with issues
involving their own children, says Butts. In her case, she says simply that
Ryan's mother was "not mature enough to take on the responsibilities of being a
mother." Geri and David have raised Ryan since he was 2 months old and have
legal custody of the boy.
Resources Are Out There
Butts says she and other local "grand" parents now meet in a
support group formed by the Baxter County Family Resource Center. Among the
benefits offered by the support group is information sharing on about how to
qualify for programs such as WIC or Medicaid, which may help with food and
Probably one of the best resources for grandparents raising
grandchildren is the AARP's Grandparent Information Center. Started in 1993,
the center is run by Margaret Hollidge, who describes herself as "a grandmother
who 'got stuck' with the sweetest, smartest grandson for 5 years."
In Hollidge's case, she headed a multigenerational household.
"My 22-year-old daughter was pregnant and I found myself becoming a co-parent
of her child," she says.
Hollidge's daughter and grandson are now on their own, she
says, "but we are still very close and when my grandson comes to visit me for a
weekend, he says, 'Gran, it is so nice to be home.' "
Difficult Issues to Deal With
Sister Elizabeth Mullane, director of positive caring services
and medical services at St. Vincent's Services in New York, often grapples with
the more the difficult aspects of grandparents as parents.
Many times a grandparent takes over parenting when "the parents
cannot take on their responsibility because of a substance abuse problem or
because [they] are in jail," she says. And in such cases, the grandparents are
very likely to feel overwhelmed.
"Probably the most important service that we can then offer to
both the grandparent and the grandchild is respite care," she says -- that is,
short term, temporary care of the child to give the grandparent a break from
the daily routine of caregiving. "Even taking over for a few hours can be a
welcome and essential relief," she says.