When Grandma Becomes Ma

When my father suddenly died in his thirties, my Mother had to go to work to support four children. Her different jobs included bookkeeper, fabric converter (I still don’t understand what that involved), creator of a terry cloth tunic that was publicized in Ladies Home Journal. During my Mother’s absence, my eldest sister “Betsy” would, in loco parentis, look after me, the youngest.

However, it was really my grandmother who took care of me during the day. She was only a suburban block away. “Nanny,” a divorced woman, had plenty of support raising me. In her full house, she had her Mother, her nephew, her two counselors from a girls’ summer camp that she ran in New Hampshire. I loved going to my grandmother’s, but it was on a part-time basis; she didn’t have custody of “little Wesley” for those five years. Compared to today’s drug-afflicted society, she had it “easy.”

Times Have Changed: “The Opioid Orphans”

Today, you may find a grandparent taking full-time care of their grandchildren because their grandchild’s parents have substance abuse disorders and can’t handle the responsibilities involved in child rearing. The addiction has led them astray and so the grandparents come to the rescue. It’s not uncommon today.

In fact, the states hardest hit by the opioid epidemic report as much as a 62% increase in the number of children being placed with a relative in foster care. The grandchildren’s parents may be serving jail sentences, be in long-term, court-ordered rehabs, sober transitional living homes, living on the streets, or worse, dead.

Grandfamilies.org estimates that 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren. While they love their grandchildren, the stress of day-to-day chores coupled now with home-schooling due to the pandemic, can be too much for a couple who were dreaming in their golden years of more leisure time to pursue hobbies, perhaps traveling. Yet, 21% of grandparents caring for their grandchildren live below the poverty line, according to Generations United.

However, there are helpful resources available for grandparents suggested by www.childwelfare.gov.publications such as:

  • Low-income households can apply for the entire family to receive benefits, which may include cash assistance, food stamps and day care. If the household income is too high to qualify for assistance, a grandparent can still apply on behalf of the children.
  • Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Security income (SSI)
  • Social Security Benefits (Survivor Supplemental Nutrition Benefits)
  • Medicaid
  • Free day care
  • Kin-GAP Program offers financial assistance and other support services such as Medi-Cal for a child who is placed with an approved relative legal guardian.
  • Low-income households can apply for the entire family to receive benefits, which may include cash assistance, food stamps and day care. If the household income is too high to qualify for assistance, a grandparent can still apply on behalf of the children.
  • According to AARP, the House and Senate passed on July 10,2018 the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act which helps families impacted by the Opioid Crisis.

 Other Major Concerns

Aside from the financial considerations and disrupted leisure and retirement plans, there are other crucibles to raising custodial grandchildren:

  • Inadequate support
  • Social stigma of having a child who can’t raise his children.
  • Feelings of isolation being in the minority with grandchildren in tow.
  • Constant anger at the addicted parents for putting them in this predicament.
  • Having to be vigilant about trauma’s effect on their grandchildren: low self-esteem, general fearfulness, depression, anxiety, stomach problems, sleep problems, trouble concentrating, emotional detachment, feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Pressure to answer child’s questions re: Mommy and Daddy’s whereabouts in age-appropriate language.

     Support For Grandparents of “The Skipped Generation”

  • Connect with other grandparents through AL-ANON or NAR-ANON.
  • For further suggestions: read The Grandfamily Guidebook: Wisdom & Support for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren by Andrew Adesman, M.D. and Christine Adamec.
Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.

4 Comments

  1. Avatar Gwendoline Harris on January 28, 2021 at 10:25 am

    Wesley ! You are amazing !!!! Keep on writing !!!

  2. Avatar B. Eager on January 28, 2021 at 11:08 am

    Excellent article- full of wisdom , thoughtful research and intelligence
    Wonderful insights for us all
    Thank you
    B

  3. Avatar Carol Stolz on January 29, 2021 at 3:08 pm

    So very difficult for a Grandparent to raise a child in this society and if there is a drug problem in the family, I cannot imagine ???
    Thank you for sending this!
    Carol

  4. Avatar Janet on March 7, 2021 at 9:38 am

    Wes— I didn’t know this side of your story. I’d love to read more about it! Love, Janet

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