More and more grandparents are raising their own grandchildren.
“Some grandparents are an ocean apart from their grandchildren. Ours are right under foot,” Donna Foulke said. “And they definitely keep me young.” Foulke didn’t expect to be raising her three great grandchildren, but together with her daughter, Cassie Burns, the children’s grandmother, that is exactly what they are doing. Foulke and Burns are part of a growing statistic in the U.S. – grandparents raising their grandchildren. Of the nation’s families, 2.4 million are maintained by grandparents who have one or more of their grandchildren living with them. This number has significantly increased throughout the past decade. The two grandparents from Miltona never questioned taking on the responsibility of caring for their grandchildren. Together they have permanent custody of Burns’ grandchildren, ages six, five and three. “They needed to be here. I wanted them in a safe and stable environment,” shared Foulke. “I truly believe this is what God has called us to do. And through his grace, he is providing our ability to have all three of them.” Burns has enjoyed being instrumental in the lives of her grandchildren. “It’s been rewarding to see the children grow and flourish,” she said. The two women agreed that there are challenges in raising three young children, however, no more than what all parents face. Foulke provides a learning experience for the children in their home. A classroom is complete with tiny desks and school supplies. Their home is full of laughter, love and learning. It may not be a typical family situation, but it is an environment that is becoming more commonplace. April Larson of the Douglas County Building Connections has also observed the change in family trends. Douglas County Building Connections is an early childhood initiative that provides a partnership between early childhood professionals, parents, businesses, government agencies and community organizations that support strong families and healthy development for children. The non-profit, grant-funded program is committed to providing opportunities and resources for young children. The people that work with the program have noticed increased involvement of grandparents in the lives of their grandchildren. Larson contributed some of this growth to modern medicine as it allows people to live longer and with a better quality of life. She added that the nation’s increasingly mobile culture in recent generations may also be a factor. “There has been such an emphasis in the early childhood field on the social and emotional health of children,” said Larson. “The more consistent and reliable love, care and nurturing that children feel, the better the foundation for physical and cognitive development to occur.” The importance of the contributions of grandparents was further explained when Larson said, “Parents can only be stretched so thin – between work responsibilities, home care and child care, they often look to grandparents to help them provide an extra dose of the love and attention that is needed by the children.” More brain growth and development occurs between the ages of 0 and 3 than at any other time in a child’s life. This is a critical period for a child to learn that the world is a safe and trustworthy place. Those messages come from caring adults, many of whom are grandparents. Information from the 2000 U.S. Census indicated about 56 million Americans are grandparents. The census data indicated that teen pregnancy has contributed to many people becoming grandparents at a younger age. Thus, the role of a grandparent has changed in many households. Nontraditional households have become more common. Whether a grandparent is providing part-time or full-time care of their grandchildren, more grandparents are participating in the lives of their grandchildren. Research has proven that benefits are experienced from both sides of a healthy relationship. It also supports that technology and mobility have allowed grandparents to develop stronger bonds with their grandchildren. These factors along with solid communication greatly influence the quality of the relationships. According to information provided by the Ohio State University Extension, benefits are experienced by both sides of a healthy grandparent/grandchildren relationship. The benefits for the adults include, but are not limited to the following: • Involvement in the lives of your children and grandchildren and being a part of their many achievements. • Satisfaction in providing extended family support, encouragement and/or companionship. • Being a better grandparent than perhaps you were a parent, due to years of experience. • Continuing the family line. Other research shows additional benefits such as less health problems for grandparents who are actively involved with their grandchildren. Grandchildren also receive important benefits from grandparents, which may include: • Developing a positive attitude toward aging. • Learning about their families’ origins, culture and customs or traditions. • Developing life skills and leisure-time activities from older individuals. Relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are important no matter what the family dynamics are. Children depend and thrive on positive relationships and they benefit from a sense of love and support from relationships beyond that of their parents.