Dr. Henry Holstege, Calvin College’s Professor Emeritus, recently spoke to a group of educators concerning grandparents as parents. Dr. Holstege, an internationally known speaker and author, said grandparents had better understand what they are up against as they take on this monumental task.

He joked that if at all possible, try to avoid it. A grandfather to eighteen, Dr. Holstege said that one of the fears his wife and he had was that his grown children would go on a trip, get maimed or killed, and they’d be stuck raising the grandchildren. We understand the glum humor in that. After the toll of raising our own kids, we don’t relish a new set. In the words of some of my friends, “Glad to see them come, and glad to see them go.”

What is no joke is that due to drug use, incarceration, and a plethora of other ills, this phenomenon is happening across America in disproportionate numbers. Over 3 million grandparents are raising grandchildren in the U.S. and many of these grandparents are single moms. So, it’s very important that they identify sources and resources in the community, the city, and in the states where they live.

Dr. Holstege honed in on some issues that may be pertinent to Baby Boomers who find themselves in this situation today. One is that grandparents need to “legal up”. Grandparents they don’t have natural rights. If they don’t have legal custody or are not the adoptive parents, adult children can come back and take the child from their care. A judge is going to ask what legal power you have and if you have none, even if you’ve had care of that child for several years, he or she is going back into that drug home or into the foster care system.

If attorney fees, which can be as high as $4000 for adoption, are too expensive, you can still get legal custody. One panelist said he was loathe to adopt because the child was receiving SSI and that would have ceased with adoption.

Next, Holstege thinks you should consider your ability to care for a child. How much energy do you have? Do you suffer from chronic illnesses? Is caring for grandchildren going to make you sicker? Can you rely on other resources? How about the in-laws or the child’s other grandparents?

Identify social agencies that can help you learn about Social Security benefits as well as other financial help? Make an appointment to meet with the social worker at the school your grandchild attends. The social worker can refer you to agencies that will give you information and/or immediate help. School administrators and teachers can explain standardized testing, special education needs, free and reduced breakfast and lunch applications, and tutoring. Teachers and counselors can tell you who your grandchildren really are outside of the home. They know if their friends are good kids or if your grandchild needs intervention.

Identify and join support groups. These groups not only show you that you aren’t alone, but they have the manpower to invite police officers to come in as guest speakers to bring you up to speed on gangs and signs of drug abuse. These agencies sometimes provide babysitting services so grandparents raising grandchildren can have a few hours of freedom each week. If nothing else, many of them are a chance to escape each week and enjoy adult conversation while the kids enjoy a movie, a game, and a hot meal.

Take a look at the clip below to see how one such organization provides a respite for a tired grandmother. Do you have any advice for our readers? Can you recommend a support group in your hometown?

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