“Simply focusing on addressing children’s needs, independent of the family unit, is not an effective way to address larger social and economic issues. It is important to validate the child’s home culture, parent involvement, and unique background in an effort to support success for the whole family.”1
Are there a significant number of grandparents raising their grandchildren?
What thoughts come to your mind when you think about the grandparent’s role in the lives of the children that you serve? Do you see a grandparent who takes the child for an outing to the park or zoo on an occasional basis, or does that grandparent have a more substantial role in the child’s upbringing? Do the grandparents provide financial support, shelter, food, and clothing needs of the children you serve? If so, then your image of the grandparent may be representative of the more than “2.5 million grandparents who play a prominent role in raising one or more grandchildren. It also represents 40% of all grandparents including the 1.6 grandmothers and the 932,000 grandfathers” who are financially responsible for their grandchildren.2
What do grandparents want educators to know?
Grandparents may have the role of “parenting” their grandchild thrust upon them due to problems associated with their adult children’s lives. Some grandparents take on the role of parenting when their adult child dies unexpectedly or from a serious illness. This leaves the grandparent in the role of parenting a child who is also grieving. In other cases, the adult child of the grandparent has made poor life choices which have resulted in incarceration, mental illness, addictions, or some other detrimental situation that makes it impossible for the parent to care for the child.3 Many grandparents take on the role of parenting their grandchildren in an effort to accommodate the needs of the child.
As you can imagine, this results in an interruption to any plans that the grandparents had for their own retirement years. It can also place demands on health and income that grandparents were unprepared for in their latter years. As oneEducational Gerontology article stated, “Parenting grandchildren not only disrupts the grandparents’ lives, but also deprives the children of grandparents who can spoil them.”4 Despite all of this, grandparents have reported some positive experiences that have resulted in raising their own grandchildren. Many grandmothers have shared that they have a more relaxed parenting style where they take the time to get to know their grandchildren and find ways to enjoy their time together. In addition, “[f]or some children, the care and the love received has given rise to extraordinary achievement against great odds.”5 As early childhood professionals, we can contribute to the success of the family.
How can we support the grandparents in their roles as parents?
We can recognize that most grandparents cherish their grandchildren and want what is best for the child. In doing so, early childhood professionals can provide a support system for the grandparents in their role as parents to their grandchildren:
- Be sensitive to the grandparents’ previous knowledge and role as a parent. This is not their first time parenting a child.
- Recognize that aging and health does play a role in the grandparents’ ability to care for the child. Provide resources that offer, for example, parenting strategies, organized carpools, mentoring opportunities, respite programs, and after school programs.6
- Provide additional information about programs in your area that provide “day care, legal assistance, advocacy services, health care, substance abuse treatment, and mental health support.”7
- Provide information about food stamp programs, Medicaid, and other community services that can provide relief to the grandparent and improve the quality of life for the family.
- Provide information about how to keep documentation (notes) on visits from social workers, teachers, and parents. Grandparents should be aware that they need to keep receipts of additional costs of care and any medical visits regarding the child.8Grandparents may need this information for proof in legal cases or to provide evidence of monies spent on the child.
- Form a solution-focused support group for the grandparents in your community that are raising their grandchildren. Grandparents can meet to discuss ways to solve the problems that they are experiencing in raising their grandchildren. This is a great opportunity to share additional resources that are solution-focused.9
Verlinda Ruble is a full-time faculty member in the Educational Studies Department in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Purdue Global. She holds a bachelor’s degree in special education and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on computer education. Currently, she is working towards a PhD in education with an emphasis on early childhood education and hopes to complete her dissertation within the next year or two. Ms. Ruble has previously taught in the public school system; she enjoys working with students of all ages, but children hold a special place in her heart. She lives in Virginia with her husband and oldest son. They have one dog and one cat, Sephera and Callie. Verlinda’s youngest son and wife are expecting their first child in the early summer.
1. L.M. Follari, Foundations and Best Practices in Early Childhood: History, Theories, and Approaches to Learning (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007).
2. U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey. On the Internet at http://www.census.gov/acs/www/ (accessed May 2011).
3. J. Glass Jr. and T.L. Huneycutt, “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: The Courts, Custody, And Educational Implications,” Educational Gerontology 28, no. 3 (2002), 237–251, doi:10.1080/036012702753542535.
5. J. Worrall, “The Healing Power of Grandparents,” Education Today 6 (2009) 4–6.
6. M.L. Dolbin-MacNab, “Just Like Raising Your Own? Grandmothers’ Perceptions of Parenting a Second Time Around,” Family Relations55, no. 5 (2006), 564–575, doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2006.00426.x.
7. J. Glass Jr.
9. M.L. Dolbin-MacNab.