There's an estimated three million grandparents raising their grandchildren in the U.S. and the numbers continue to rise. There are many reasons for this such as poverty, death of a parent(s), prolong military diployment, mental illness, abuse, neglect, abandonment and jail with substance abuse (believed to be due to the opioid epidemic at an all time high).
The average income of 35-40% of grandparents is less than $24,000 per year, which adds to the pressure on families that may be already struggling financially. Fortunately, there are several assistance programs available to faimilies in need.
Assistance programs such as: TANF (temporary assistance for needy families), free or low cost childcare, kinship care/guardianship subsidies, non parent grants, child only grants (for families who's income is over the limit), food stamps, survivor benefits, and SSI just to name a few. Grandfamilies may also qualify for tax benefits of up to $4,000 for dependency expendatures, child tax credit, adoption credit up to $13,500 and education credit for the children.
Financials of raising grandchildren are only part of the struggles many may face. The flip side are the emotional struggles grandparents and grandchildren go through on a daily basis not to mention the abuse most grandparents suffer at the hands of the bio parent(s) and other times from angry grandchildren who do not understand why they cannot live with mommy and daddy.
Many times these children suffer with disabilities ranging from PTSD to physical and mental impairments, which require many doctors appointments, therapy appointments, specialist appointments, medication, psychological therapy, visitations with bio parents, school intervention (IEPs), special educational programs, and the list goes on.
Grandparents are often accused of stealing children by bio parents and those who do not understand circumstances and situations. In fact, grandparents would rather the bio parents take responsibility but step up to the challenge to keep their families intact and children out of state custody and foster homes, which could cause further harm to the children, especially those with special needs and complex diagnosis.
Not only do the children suffer the loss of their parents causing anger and uncertainty in their lives but grandparents give up so much of their lives to take on the responsibilities of raising their grandchildren, to include several grandparents divorcing after taking on the children and all the added stressors from bio parents and outside agencies.
Family reunification Is always the first step but many times this doesn't happen therefore; grandparents are then faced with four options; continue guardianship (in and out of court til the child(ren) turn 18 years of age), adoption of their grandchild(ren), adopting the grand(ren) to another family, or turn the child(ren) over to state custody.
No matter how informed grandparents are concerning financial assistance or help for the grandchildren there is no rule book and no one to fully prepare the grandparents for the emotional rollercoaster they have embarked upon. There will be doubt, saddness, anger towards the bio parents, frustration, questions of where did I go wrong with my own child, loneliness, people will abandon you, who will speak poorly of you, who will verbally attack you and yes even at times physically attack you, and you may even doubt yourself. All these emotions on top of helping the little ones work through very similar feelings and emotions.
Grandparents are expected to be a rock with no flaws, remember they too are people with flaws and who make mistakes just like anyone else. Grandparents feel things deeply and just because they've lived longer doesn't mean they know everything, they too fumble through day to day situations although some may make it appear easy none of it is easy.
A lot of situations do not end well for all involved due to hurt feelings and many times the children are used as pawns, which further harms the children. Children feel as though they must choose sides, love this person and not that person, while there may be good intentions to keep the children safe there are times where adult emotions get in the way of this. Keeping the children safe not only includes physically but emotionally, and psychologically safe as well. Remembering to keep your personal feelings and emotions out of the equation can be difficult but one must always remember it's not about you it's about the children therefore; grandparents may perform better with a great therapist who could help them navigate the ups and downs.
Grandfamilies are extremely special families that have and will continue working through a lot of tough emotional situations but they are very strong people to go through all they go through and not give up. They deserve the utmost respect, encouragement, and any assistance one could give even if this means babysitting for a few hours to give the grandparents a well needed break.
The most important thing to remember is everyone is human, everyone makes mistakes, it's alright to be angry or hurt, it's alright to continue to love the ones who put all in such a situation, forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do. Forgiveness doesn't mean one must allow others to continue to harm the children or anyone else, forgiveness is more for yourself, to help you find your peace and your calm so you can be the best you can be for the grandchildren you've been entrusted to raise and care for.
You cannot be your best if you do not take care of yourself as well, so remember to find time for you. Your life is not over and your dreams are not squashed, just diverted a different direction than one may have envisioned.
Don't feel ashamed to ask for help, assistance, guidance or reassurance, you are not wonder woman or superman and cannot expect yourself to know or do it all all of the time or you will be exhausted all the time. Not everyone will understand, not everyone will care but know, it takes a special kind of person to do what you are doing and there is help out there for you too.