Today’s grandparents are often ‘the parents’

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WASHINGTON - The expression "over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house we go" is becoming less true for many American children because often their grandparents are right there in their home and increasingly, they are even taking on the role of parents.

According to figures from the AARP, more than 5.8 million children live in their grandparents' homes and more than 2.5 million grandparents have taken on the responsibility for raising these children without the children's parents living with them.

Grandparents or other relatives as the primary caregivers are often called "kinship caregivers" raising children whose parents cannot, or will not, care for them because of substance abuse, illness, death, abuse or neglect, economic hardship, incarceration, divorce, domestic violence, or other family and community crises.

Although the number of grandparent caregivers has increased significantly in the past decade, the task has not necessarily become any easier. And just because grandparents have already raised children doesn't mean they are naturally equipped to do this again in today's world when they are likely to have less energy and more personal health concerns than they did decades ago.

One way for these grandparents who are parenting again to make their job easier is to connect with other grandparents in the same situation. AARP provides a grandparent support locator - Many local Catholic Charities agencies also provide support for grandparents in this role and can connect them to available resources.

The website of the Northwest Senior Services of Catholic Charities of Chicago notes that "many grandparents or relative caregivers are overwhelmed with the situation they face. You are not alone. It's important to ask for help."

The agency lets grandparents know about and connects them to available resources through schools, faith-based organizations and local government programs.

Other Catholic Charities agencies also provide support to grandparent caregivers through meetings and seminars. In Boston, the Catholic Charities agency sponsors the group "Grandparents as Parents" which offers a confidential help line with access to information and referrals, group support, and informational workshops and seminars. The program also offers assistance with legal, financial, housing, and health care concerns, as well as child care, education and respite care.

Catholic Charities in Brooklyn, N.Y., provides a similar support group called "Grandparents as Parents Again."

The federal government and AARP have outlined many of the available resources for parenting grandparents at these sites: and

The AARP guide notes that it can be overwhelming for seniors to be "unexpectedly thrust into the role of being their primary caregiver." It urges grandparents to first focus on basic needs, such as finding a place to the child to sleep; providing food, clothing, and any medication, getting the right kind of equipment, such as a stroller, car seat and crib for young children and getting as much information about school and other activities for older children.

The site also advises grandparents in this new role to talk with the key people in their grandchildren's lives, such as teachers, pediatricians, school social workers, and lawyers or child welfare professionals who have been involved with the grandchild to find out about schedule details, possible resource materials or available services.

The federal government site provides a detailed listing of available resources and publications and it also links readers to a site offering general tips for grandparent caregivers such as:

- Read to younger children daily.

- Keep immunizations up-to-date.

- Provide nutritious foods.

- Set a good example by calmly working out disputes, especially with the grandchild's parents.

- Monitor television, movie, music and computer use by grandchildren.

- If a grandchild has special needs, seek out services as soon as possible.

And last, but certainly not least, the site advises grandparents to make their grandchild feel loved and important.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970