The Incomplete Village
By Claudine Kent
Parenting Again: Raising My Grandsons Alone
They come in all shapes, sizes and colors, from all walks of life. Some are men some are women; married, single, or in-between. Some are young, some not so young. Some have been abundantly blessed with resources. Others don’t know whether or not they can keep the lights on. Some stay at home. Some hold down more than one job to provide for the children in their care.
The one thing they, or should I say WE, have in common is the love we have for our families. We must do what is right no matter the personal costs and sacrifice.
We have the determination to carry on when the biological parents of the children have failed. We pick up the pieces of shattered families and try to heal the pain that we may not have caused but cannot ignore. You see us at schools, doctor’s offices, in the supermarket or the park. We may be laughing, crying, working or playing.
We know we are not alone because according to the US Census 2000, there are more than 3.9 million of us and the numbers are climbing – we are affectionately called GRANDPARENTS. About 5.4 million children nationwide live with their grandparents. One in 10 grandparents has been the primary support of a grandchild at some time in their lives. While this is not a new phenomenon in this country, the rate of grandparents raising their grandchildren is increasing. There is every reason to believe the numbers will continue to grow.
The most recent count of grandchildren being raised by their grandparents indicates these numbers increased nearly 36 percent in one year over previous years. This increasing incidence of second time parenting is due to a number of life situations. In today’s society, several social trends have been identified as contributing to this phenomenon:
• Increase in drug abuse
• Divorce and family violence
• Parental illness (mental and physical)
• Teenage pregnancy (children born to young parents who are unable, emotionally
and/or financially to care for them)
• Incidents of child abuse, neglect, or abandonment by the parents, leading to
the removal of children from their original home
• Breakdown of the traditional family structure, making it difficult for a single
parent to raise a child
• Legal situations involving incarceration of parents
• Death or incapacity due to accidents or illness
As for the African American community, the question is, do we need another epidemic? NO but we are faced with yet another one. Statistical estimates indicate that in some cities with large, low-income African American populations, between 30% and 70% of all children are living with grandparents. African American children residing with grandparents are more likely than Whites to have neither of their biological parents present (35% vs. 22%). Households including African American grandchildren are typically headed by the grandmother (62%).
Whatever the reason and no matter the circumstance, grandparents are frequently called upon to step into the primary parental role. The old African American proverb “it takes a village” has taken on a whole new meaning because the village is missing a vital component when the biological parents are absent. Thus, leaving the structure of the village (family) virtually strained, tired and weakened by the lack of support.
Some of the grandparents are younger than others but still have set their lives in motion to experience life more abundantly. They have dreams and aspirations, whether it is returning to school, traveling or having a desire to see a ministry broaden or begin. Then suddenly, your life is interrupted. Believe me, it is only by God’s grace and mercy you can withstand such an interruption. Let me share my story.
I had finally returned to school with my life plan and goals written down, looking forward to crossing each item off the list. When I found out my grandsons were in the foster care system, I was faced with a decision of leaving them in the system and visiting them on the weekends, or giving them a stable home with a sense of security, knowing that they would be loved and nurtured.
I weighed the challenges, and listened to a great deal of opinions from others. Ultimately I knew that God had given me a charge, an assignment. It took me almost a year to get them out of the system. I went from seeing them two hours a week to picking them up on weekends. My heart shattering with each visit but we all know everything is in God’s timing.
On October 24, 2002 I was granted custody. This was a new beginning for them and a magnitude of indescribable uncertainties for me. My anxiety while traveling home was so great, wondering how was I going to do this? I thought about all the adjustments I would have to make and the enormous resources needed to properly care for them. Needless to say, I had a raging war going on in my mind but I had to appear calm to assure them everything was going to be alright.
As we reached my home I watched each boy move into their perspective spaces. There was a deafening silence and then all of a sudden the youngest said in a whisper (to himself), “it is so nice to be home.” I knew then that was God’s way of saying to me you have done what I asked, you have become that elected lady and I will not leave you alone.
It’s been five years now. The most challenging thing for me has been finding a balance between being the parent and the grandparent. Believe me; there have been many times when I have experienced every emotion known to mankind. I continue to develop strengths I didn’t even know existed.
I do believe God has an order to everything - including the development of a child. Grandparents are in a child’s life to impart wisdom and love with the patience that comes from experience. Grandparents were designed to be the safe haven; those who understand when no one else will take the time to listen. Let us not forget the child though, because they are just as confused about the role of a grandparent.
Unfortunately, life’s trials have reversed these roles and sometimes (keeping it real), I find myself not wanting to be either. Just when I am feeling overwhelmed God sends an encouraging word from a friend, a respite from a loved one, or just a smile from one of the boys and I know he is working things out for the good.
The boys and I have weathered plenty of storms and I will continue to face the giants of doubt, disappointment, and the one that seeks to devour and divide. I also know that God put me in their lives to plant seeds of self-confidence, self-identity, self-respect, self-esteem, and the love of God. Knowing that I am blessed to bless (and you never know in what forms your blessings come), I am trusting and believing God that my latter will be greater than my past.
Challenges, Concerns and Issues Grandparents Face
The number of challenges, concerns and issues facing grandparent caregivers is overwhelming. They include a wide range of topics, such as legal problems, school issues, financial concerns, medical needs, housing, and daycare arrangements. Therefore, care and help for grandparents are essential as they care for the children. A grandparent’s lifestyle is changed and challenged and they no longer have the energy, and in many cases have health issues. As a matter of fact, many grandparents are deprived of a positive relationship with their own child. Some may often be dealing with feelings of failure, guilt, and embarrassment.
The lack of community awareness of problems faced by these grandparents and kinship caregivers further add to the already stressful situations they face. Locating and obtaining needed resources has been a difficult and frustrating experience. According to the Governor’s advisory Council on Aging, 2000-2010, “A Decade of Challenge,” when talking to groups and individuals, there are two things of equal importance that they need: support and resources are the common threads they all mention.
How Can We Help?
Grandparents need to be understood, they need the friendship of someone who can identify with what they are going through, someone who knows how to care. Grandparents need to relieve themselves of the emotional distress caused by bottled-up emotions. They need arenas where they can talk and often times just cry. Their confidence needs to be regenerated, courage boosted, and stamina renewed.
Grandparents need someone to rejoice with them over the victories! Applaud when they’ve done well! This much needed support can come from supports groups, whether in your local churches or community. Support groups provide an opportunity to meet others in the same situation to share experiences, knowledge, strengths, and hopes.
In summary, I would like to share one last thought. When you see a grandparent taking on this enormous task, please be sensitive to the fact that these young people come from all environments. In fact, some may not have been developed or exposed to some of the things we take for granted. Please do not be quick to judge. Give allowances for the teaching curve. Assist that grandparent in whatever way you can. Support your local grandparent groups, if there isn’t one, create one. Create a resource center and keep them informed of their rights and entitlements.
We can reconstruct the village if we realize the village has to be sensitive to the needs of the individuals that make up the village. Give grandparents a break. Let them put their feet up and enjoy quiet time because they will truly need a serene moment. Also, please remember that a hug goes a long way.
I hope this article encourages not only grandparents, but also single-parents facing similar challenges as well. Remember we are all in this TOGETHER! If you are in need of assistance with a particular issue, or if I can share any informational resources mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact me. I have strolled, walked and ran in your shoes and I am willing to help carrying you when you get tired.
AARP Grandparent Information Center has comprehensive information to help grandparents raising grandchildren. Call 202-434-2296. www.aarp.org
Generations United www.gu.org.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren www.USA.gov
The Foundation for Grandparenting www.grandparenting.org
2000 US Census Bureau
Tucker, M. B., & Mitchell-Kernan, C. (1995). Trends in African American family formation: A theoretical and statistical overview. In M. B. Tucker & C. Mitchell-Kernan (Eds.), The decline in marriage among African Americans: Causes, consequences, and policy implications (pp. 3-26). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
***We would love to hear from you. Please visit Jeanette's Forum to share your thoughts and comments.***
"Never underestimate the power of a seed." - Max Lucado