I'm a grandparent raising my grandchildren, and I need some suggestions and resources. Educators are always wanting to know the details on the children's background. These kids are hurt quite often by everyone with comments like, "Why aren't you living with your mom? Doesn't your mom want you?" I would appreciate any ideas.
-- A grandmother in
Arlington Heights, Ill.
Reader Anne Pierce's grandsons were 6 and 1 when she found them four years ago at a children's shelter soon after her %J daughter had abandoned them.
"Grandma, I knew you would come," the older boy said when she arrived. The boys have counted on her ever since.
The most important thing to do is find a support group of other grandparents who have been there, know the ropes and understand what you're going through, readers and experts say.
"Before I found a support group, I thought I couldn't do it," says Pierce, who leads a group in Santa Rosa, Calif. "It helps to know you're not alone."
Nearly 4 million children nationwide live in households headed by grandparents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In about one-third of those, including Pierce's home, neither birth parent is present.
The growing trend of grandparents raising their grandchildren puts two generations at risk physically, financially and emotionally. Often by default, a grandmother gets a parenting job that her daughter or son cannot handle.
Deborah Doucette-Dudman, author of "Raising Our Children's Children" (Fairview Press, $12.95, $17.95 Canada), also turned to a support group after she and her husband adopted their teen-ager's baby.
"Connecting with a support group is critical for people thrust into this situation," she says. "It breaks the isolation barrier."
State and local agencies are just now figuring out how to fill the void, but for years, grandparents have helped one another update parenting skills and find financial and legal assistance through support groups.
Groups also give members a chance to talk about their feelings about their children, many of whom have abused drugs, Pierce )) says.
"A grandparent harboring negative feelings toward the birth parent is a destructive environment," Doucette-Dudman says. A child who fears an angry response may be reluctant to ask about his parents and the reasons for his circumstances.
"Absolutely by the age of 5, children are entitled to have the information about their past," she says. "Spoon information out in small, appropriate doses."
A first dose could be to say, "Your mother loved you but could not take care of you," the author says. A child armed with a statement like this has a ready response for curious playmates. Give as little information as possible to inquiring adults.
For older grandchildren, some cruel remarks call for heart-to-heart talks. "Your mother is probably dead," a boy told Pierce's 10-year-old grandson.
"I have to deal with their questions, as well as my own insides," she says.
Even a seemingly simple essay on "How my parents got my name" joins the list of questions that Pierce and her grandson cannot answer. Mother's Day presents made at school each year go into a drawer at home just in case.
Pierce's support group is trying to make teachers aware that these types of assignments threaten the self-esteem of students who do not come from nuclear families.
Here are some resources:
For a list of support groups in your area, a newsletter and tips for raising grandchildren, write to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Grandparent Information Center, 601 E St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049. Call the center at 202-434-2296 for more information.
School guidance counselors, health-care providers and ministers may also be able to suggest a local support group.
Sources of financial and legal assistance are scattered and vary from state to state. Search the telephone book for state, county and local offices on elder affairs or aging, social services, child care, foster care and housing.
Can you help?
Here's a new question from a parent who needs your help. If you have tips, or if you have questions of your own, please call our toll-free hot line any time at 800-827-1092. Or write to Child Life, 2212 The Circle, Raleigh, N.C. 27608, or send e-mail to bevmillol.com.
Tough temper: It's one thing when a 2-year-old throws a fit, but how do you handle an older child who still throws temper tantrums? asks C.W. of Garland, Texas. "My daughter is 11 years old and in the fifth grade," she says. "She has always thrown temper tantrums, but lately she is getting worse. I need some advice."
Pub Date: 5/11/97