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Grandparents raising grandchildren: loving care through the generations

Grandparents raising grandchildren: loving care through the generations

(ARA)- Mom, dad, kids and a dog named Spot. The nuclear family structure that was typically portrayed in television shows of the 1950s and 1960s is not the reality of today. Families are sewn together by many different threads, and one specific familial set-up--grandparents raising grandchildren--is one that is not only unique by definition, but also is susceptible to many unique challenges.
Dr. George Stricker, professor of clinical psychology at Argosy University/Washington DC, explains, "The pattern of grandparents serving as the primary caregivers to children has been increasing steadily over the past decade." U.S. Census 2000 data indicated that "2.4 million grandparents are taking on primary responsibility for their grandchildren's basic needs. Many of these grandparents have assumed this responsibility without the parent of the child being in the home." (AARP. "State Fact Sheets for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children." September 2005. May 25, 2006 )
"Grandparent/grandchild relationships almost always occur as a result of something bad happening to the previous care giving set-up," says Dr. Stricker. "Some reasons include parental death, incarcerations, illness, drug use, or termination of parental rights because of abuse."
And with these hardships come the significant age and generation gaps between grandparent and grandchild. As a result, it may be difficult for grandparents to relate to parents of peers of the grandchild. "Physical and mental energy may not be present in an aging caregiver," says Dr. Stricker. "There also are problems that arise from the interference with the grandparents' plans for their later years, as they have to take on full parental responsibilities at a time of their lives that ordinarily is reserved for less arduous tasks, and interfere with retirement and socializing plans."
Despite some tough roadblocks in the family's path, it is important to realize that there are many rewards facing aging caregivers. "Grandparents can still gain the satisfaction of contributing to the well-being of the family and the love and companionship provided by the youngster," says Dr. Stricker.
Grandparents may be helped if they understand the benefits of what they are doing, focus on some of the benefits that accompany the problems, and do not deny the problems that are inevitable with the role. Says Dr. Stricker: "Remember that grandparents, too, may have had a tragedy concerning their own child, so they are hurting going in to their new caregiver role. Any other advice would be the same as would be given to a parent: be patient and loving, and hope for the best."

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