by Teresa Bell Kindred

For my latest book, The Faith-Filled Grandmother, I made sure to include a chapter about “Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren.” I knew there were a lot of grandparents taking on that challenge, but I didn’t know how many.

And, because I know some grandparents who are doing this, I thought I understood their situation, but I was wrong. It’s much more complicated than I ever imagined, and I didn’t realize how difficult these grandparents’ lives are. Often they are dealing with legal issues (which vary from state to state) as well as emotional issues.

When you talk to them and hear their stories, it is beyond heartbreaking…

Many of them are physically, mentally and financially stressed.

Many of them don’t know where their adult children are.

Many of them have adult children in jail.

Many of them have had to admit that their children are unfit parents and the only choices available to them are letting their grandchildren go to foster care or raising them themselves.

study done in my home state of Kentucky found that about 75% of children have experienced at least one traumatic event before going to live with their grandparent. Often, these children are recovering from numerous traumatic events, and that will likely affect their behavior; they’ll probably act out based on feelings they don’t know how to verbalize. Caring for traumatized children is complicated and is something most of us may not know how to handle. And all this during a season of life that is supposed to be relaxing, rewarding, and happy.

The Power of Addiction

Another big eye-opener while doing research for this chapter was how often drugs and alcohol play a major part in why grandparents are raising their grandchildren.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, “In 2005, 2.5 million children were living with grandparents who were responsible for their care. By 2015, that number had risen to 2.9 million. Child welfare officials say drug addiction, especially to opioids, is behind much of the rise in the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren, just as it was during the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. An estimated 2.4 million people were addicted to opioids at last count.”

For grandparents who are raising their grandchildren because an adult child is addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s a major lifestyle adjustment—in addition to dealing with the addiction of the son or daughter they love. Then when you add financial problems (which most of them have), it seems like an unbearable situation … and sometimes it is.

One day as I was reading entries in a Facebook group for grandparents in this situation, I had to stop and wipe my eyes before I could keep scrolling. The entry said, “Megan overdosed last night. How do I tell my grandchildren their mother is dead? How can I deal with their broken hearts when mine is shattered?”

There is no way to put a number on the cost of addiction. Everyone loses: the one who is addicted … their parents … their children … society. It’s just a losing situation.

Still, somehow, despite all the challenges and heartache, these grandparents also have joy. Every single grandmother I interviewed, regardless of the problems they faced—and some of their problems would make your hair stand on end—said that if they were given the choice, they would do it all over again. Grandchildren are joy.

What Can We Do?

If you know someone who is raising a grandchild or grandchildren here are some things you can do to help….

  • Pray – They need your prayers, and they need more than that … they need help.
  • Offer to babysit for one day, one night, even one hour. Almost every grandparent I spoke with mentioned being tired. They need a break. Even a one-hour nap can lift their spirits and energy level!
  • If you can afford to help them financially by buying the children clothing or a new pair of shoes, offer to do so! Most grandparents will appreciate your support.
  • If you know of groups or organizations in your community that could benefit these grandparents make a list of them and talk to the grandparents about them. They may not have access to the information.
  • Offer to listen. They may need someone to talk to. Listening does not mean giving advice. If you have helpful resources share them but until you walk in their shoes, do not offer advice. Just listen.
  • If you belong to a club or group, why not take on grandfamilies in your community to sponsor? Maybe it’s just during the holidays, or maybe it’s year-round. Everything you do will mean a lot to the children and grandparents in these families.

Don’t forget these families!

Teresa Kindred is a freelance writer, former teacher, and author of several books, including The Faith-Filled Grandmother (2019). She’s the mom of five grown children and “Nana” to six precious grandchildren. She and her husband live in Kentucky. Her blog for grandparents is at NanaHood.com.