According to the Foundation for Grandparenting, the number of children being raised by their grandparents has risen sharply since the start of the recession in 2007. A Pew Research Center study that found that one in 10 children in the U.S. now lives with a grandparent. In all, 2.9 million children are being raised mainly by at least one grandparent, or 4 percent of all children.
Today, I had the opportunity to speak to one of those grandparents, retired now raising her 16 year old grandson. Let’s take a look at some of the issues facing those in their golden years, thrown back into a parenting role and lessons to be learned.
Question: What has been the biggest life change since your grandson started living with you, 2 years ago?
Grandma: Realizing that young people should have children, not old ones!
Question: Why do you say that?
Grandma: Keeping up with a teenager daily just drains you, mentally and physically.
Question: I understand that you are older and the physical demands are hard on a body that is not young. How does it mentally drain you, specifically?
Grandma: Simply worrying that I am not doing the right thing for him. Am I being too hard? Am I not being hard enough?
Question: I think young parents deal with that. How do you think it is different for you?
Grandma: When I was raising my own children, it was a different world. Technology is out there now and they have such easy access to things they shouldn’t have. Things like cell phones, online access with video games, computers; everything is bigger. I give my grandson a telephone and I expect him to answer it. And he doesn’t.
It would be an easier life to go back 40 years…and raise my grandkids back then. The world was a smaller place. Back then, it was their hometown. There was a fence in the yard. Now, there is no fence and it isn’t just a hometown, it’s the world. I send my grandson to his room, he gets on his game or computer…and he’s in China.
Our children are being bombarded with too much technology and growing up too fast.
Question: I understand. Do you think today’s young parents think that?
Grandma: I don’t think they think it, but I think they should. I don’t think young parents know what a white picket fence is anymore.
Question: Do you think your grandson is suffering in any way, compared to how a young parent would raise him, in this age of technology?
Grandma: Yes. I still believe he needs to be out in the woods with his BB gun, building a fort. Young parent’s expectations are different. He wants to be like all of his friends, and I pull the reigns back. I approve of a lot less.
Question: Do you really think that makes him suffer, though?
Grandma: I think he suffers in his mind because I don’t allow him the access his friends have. If I could, I would move him to Hannibal, Missouri so he could play with Tom Sawyer. I want him to have memories of throwing a fishing hook in the lake, not sitting in front of a video game. I want his life to slow down. I think his life would be fuller.
Question: But most kids today are being raised with video games. Do you think none of them will have good memories?
Grandma: I don’t think they will have the memories they should.
Question: I think younger parents try to create memories and provide a balance. How do you?
Grandma: I think most young parents use technology to raise their children – not create the balance I am talking about. I feel like I have to fight harder and I am older and don’t have the energy, though it usually comes from somewhere. I try to provide balance by taking the technology away and but he resents it. But it benefits him. For example, when I take away the technology, the grades go up. It works.
Question: You talked about creating memories. I like that because I think good parents aim to do that. What kinds of memories do you think your grandson will have of family life, as opposed to teenagers with younger parents?
Grandma: In ways I think he will have better memories. I know I cook dinner every night. My grandson’s friends come to my house for dinner and his friends praise my cooking. I think he will remember that, good meals. Young mothers today work, they aren’t always home cooking.
Also, one of the young mothers came to me and said, “I just don’t know what to do with so-and-so (her son.)” and I said, “I do!” There is a lot of confidence that comes from experience. My husband and I have done this before. I think my grandson will appreciate our certainty…when he is 30.
Question: I bet he will. This is a hard question. What do you think he is missing by not having younger, good parents?
Grandma: Many grandparents are raising the grandkids because a parent is absent. I think the child’s loss is emotional, that they don’t have the traditional love and support of their parents. This makes the task for a grandparent more delicate and harder because the children may have anger or loss to work through. They are the ones that suffer.
Question: The statistic of grandparents raising kids is growing in the West. Long term, how do you think this will impact America?
Grandma: I could be dead in 10 years. My grandson will be 26. Where is he going to go Christmas morning? I think the family unit, the extended family, is falling part. Who is going to teach his kids to cook a turkey? Instead, they may pop by the nursing home and what memories will his children have besides, I can survive. I don’t need anyone else. I don’t want that for him or his kids…the thought that they don’t need family. Everyone needs family. It may eventually take the heart out of the world – the absence of the family unit.
Question: That is pretty depressing. How do you personally hope to change that cycle in your situation? What is your advice for other grandparents who may feel the same way?
Grandma: Like I said earlier. It comes back to physical and emotional strength. Today’s grandparents have to stay young physically, whatever it takes, so your body can be there. You can’t let your aches and pains keep you in bed. You have to keep going. And emotionally my mind has to be there, I had to learn the internet at 55 years old! I have to stay young at heart.
Question: You have! That leads me to my final question. What are the benefits of raising your grandchildren?
Answer: A 16 year old keeps you so stimulated, I think it is a great way to fight Alzheimer’s! Ha. We definitely have a lot of laughs…and a lot of love along the way. You ask yourself, “Where would they be if I wasn’t there?” We can’t let the children go. As a grandparent, you just can’t give up.