Grandparents Parenting Grandchildren

8/2/2013 by sarah

By Barbara Lockhart, CYSA President

According to Eshleman and Bulcroft (2006), in general, most grandparents find their role as a grandparent to be significant and emotionally fulfilling, as well as providing them with a sense of personal and familial renewal, a diversion in their lives, and a mark of longevity. The social construction of the ideal image of grandparents ( in Western culture) generally portrayed them as “cookie-baking” and “knee-bouncing” people that pinch the cheeks of children and have lots and lots of wrinkles. This is an image that is quickly fading out and a new younger, fresher, and hipper grandma and grandpa are beginning to emerge. As noted by Eshleman and Bulcroft (2006), with the majority of men and women in U.S. society marrying in their mid-twenties and with many of them having children within the first two years of marriage, parents may become grandparents in their forties. Even though they may be younger and living longer, do grandparents really want to become “parents” to their grandchildren?

                Williamson, Softas-Nall, and Miller (2003), have noted that increased drug and alcohol problems among young adults; increase divorce rates; harsher sentences for criminal acts, especially those involving drug sealing; the spread of HIV/AIDS; and increased teen pregnancy rate are causing many children to be without adequate parental care. Often after the intervention of the police or a child welfare agency the children may be placed with their grandparents. The question is for how long and what is the overall impact and result of this family structure?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of grandparents “parenting” grandchildren?


                Families’ staying somewhat in tact is one advantage to this situation. The trauma and stress that many of these kids have experienced at the hands of their parents is hard enough, but placement if foster care with essential “strangers” may lead to more issues fro the child (ren). According to Kropf and Burnette (2003), custodial grandparents are making a major contribution to their families, their communities, and society. This is accomplished by these grandparents serving s a safety net between their grandchildren and the formal foster care system. Other advantages of raising grandchildren as noted by Pruchno (1990), is that the experience typically engenders positive outcomes, including the satisfaction of nurturing and sustaining family ties, enjoying the companionship of a grandchild, and maintaining the meaningful ties with younger generations (as cited in Kropf & Burnette, 20003, p. 365). Additionally as noted by Kropf and Burnette (2003), grandparent-headed families provide a rich instance for analyzing social and family policy.


                Making the decision to become “parents” to one’s grandchildren can be rewarding, but it is not with out its serious challenges. As noted by Kelley and Damato (1996), and Pinson-Milburn et al. (1996), becoming caretaker grandparents leads to increased physical, emotional, and economic vulnerability ( as cited in Williamson, Softas-Nall, & Miller, 2003, p. 23). Many grandparents that end up raising their grandchildren experience resentment and stress, feeling that their “job” as a parent is over; these often become a situations riddled with role ambiguity, with many grandparents longing to be the type that visit their grandchildren, and then go on about their own lives.  Other disadvantages for this family structure are often wrapped up in financial problems, mental and physical health concerns, social isolation issues, and emotional and behavioral problems of the children both in the home and at school that the grandparents are unable to, or not equipped to deal with. As noted by Kropf and Burnette (2003), research on custodial grand parenting has identified several stressful aspects of this role. Bowers and Meyers (1999), Jendrek (1993), Minkler and Fuller-Thompson (1999), Morrow-Kondos, Weber, Cooper, and Hesser (1997) et al, note that raising grandchildren is physically demanding, and the role demands may contribute to development and/or exacerbation of existing health or functional problems ( as cited in Kropf & Burnette, 2003, p. 362).


                The resources that need to be available to grandparents that are “parenting” their grandchildren are important to note.  Some of the most significant resources that grand-parent headed households need are in the form of social policy support. The recognition and legitimization of grandparent-headed households as true families is integral to assist these families in alleviating stress and anxiety on the physical, emotional, mental, and financial levels. As noted by Kropf and Burnette (2003), families headed by grandparents afford an opportunity to examine policies across the domains of child welfare, aging, housing, healthcare, and income maintenance. Reexamining grandparents headed housel old and their eligibility for services to assist in providing for their grandchildren warrants serious attention.  It is also important for communities to step up to the plate and offer support and access to resources for these families, such as possible financial assistance, counseling, and support groups. As noted by Williamson, Softas-Nall, and Miller (2003), support from families, friends, and some service agencies can be a source for happiness for grandmothers’ raising their grandchildren and are often associated with feelings of love and closeness.


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