Nearby, Faraway, and Raising Grandchildren

  • 4.5 million children under the age of 18 are being raised in households headed by grandparents.
  • About 15% of grandparents provide some level of child care for their grandchildren – up from 8% in 1998.
  • About half the grandparents help pay for their grandchildren’s education, while 45% say they assist with living expenses.
  • Almost 70% of surveyed grandparents responding to an AARP survey reported that they see their grandchildren at least once every week or two, and one-quarter spend time with them at least once every few months.
  • The average grandparent spends about $500 a year on their grandchildren, but two out of five spend between $500 and $2,500.

Whether it’s “grandma,” “granny,” “nana,” “bubbe,” “abuela,” or “gramps,” “pop-pop,” or “g-pa,” a grandparent can make a real difference in a child’s life. In all ethnicities, cultures, and walks of life, grandparents are the link to a family’s culture, history, and traditions. Children fortunate enough to have loving grandparents in their lives have a powerful emotional bond to nurture and sustain them.

Changing Roles for Grandparents Today

The role of grandparent has changed over the years as family structure and the demands of family life have changed. Many families are separated by distance, making it difficult for grandparents to maintain meaningful relationships with their grandchildren. Even when family members live close by, it can still be challenging for grandparents to have quality time with their grandchildren. There are also many blended families today because of remarriages. In these cases, grandparents find themselves seeking to form relationships with step-grandchildren. And every year, the number of grandparents becoming the primary caregivers for their grandchildren increases.

Grandparents As Primary Caregivers

For a growing number of American families, grandparenting means more than showering the grandchildren with gifts and goodies and sharing holiday meals. The latest census figures show that 4.5 million children under the age of 18 are being raised in households headed by grandparents. Grandparents who are primary caregivers of grandchildren face many challenges: legal, financial, medical, and emotional. Even so, many grandparents are willingly stepping in to fill the gap created by their own child’s death, illness, substance abuse, imprisonment, or abuse or neglect.

Finding the Help You Need

The first step to accessing help, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), should be to resolve legal questions around custody, guardianship, or adoption. Without legal status, grandparents may not be able to enroll their grandchildren in school or make medical decisions for them.

Financial Assistance

If you are raising your grandchild, check to see if you are eligible for financial assistance from your state. Sources such as Medicaid, foster care, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), or Social Security may be available. If you have private health insurance, inquire about adding your grandchildren to the policy. Your local Department of Social Services can give you information about eligibility for Medicaid or your state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Income Tax Relief

You may be eligible for various federal tax relief programs such as the child tax, health coverage, or earned income tax credits. Tax laws and requirements change every year. It is best to get assistance when filing your taxes to make sure you are getting all the tax relief credits available to you. To find out more about tax relief, visit the IRS website or visit your local IRS office for help in person.

Finding Child Care

If you need to find child care, search for your local Child Care Resource & Referral agency (CCR&R) online. This service can help you locate your local child care expert – the Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) service in your area. The CCR&R will give you information about choosing appropriate child care, along with referrals to child care providers, information on state licensing, and other helpful information you will need in finding good care for your grandchildren.

Paying for Child Care

You may be eligible for child care financial assistance or tax relief programs. See Child Care Aware’s Finding Help Paying for Child Care brochure by visiting our Child Care Brochures page for more information.

Help In Your Community

Look for resources in your community that can provide emotional support for you as well as your grandchildren. Parenting a grandchild is totally different from parenting your own children. Many of the reasons why children live with their grandparents also create special psychological, educational, and behavioral needs. The children may be grieving or angry and confused by their parents’ absence. You may also be dealing with your own grief or anger and disappointment at your child’s inability to raise his/her own children. Seek out help – from your faith community, your grandchild’s school, local support agencies, or individual counselors. You’re not alone.

Visits with the Grandchildren

Try to schedule regular visits with your grandchildren, either at their home or yours. If the visit is at your home, and there are young grandchildren, make sure your home is safe according to current safety standards. Baby-proof your home when necessary. There are many internet resources on baby proofing the home, but the main idea is to remove or make safe all items that can be pulled, pushed, swallowed, broken, or tripped over. You also may want to have first aid items on hand and any other supplies that are necessary.

Each time the grandchildren visit, take a family photograph in the same spot (perhaps by a favorite tree in your yard). In years to come, you’ll have a wonderful record of your family’s growth – and the tree’s growth, too. Don’t forget to send copy of picture.

9 Childproofing Tips

  1. Places medications and cleaning products out of reach.
  2. Cover electrical outlets.
  3. Lock cabinets or drawers.
  4. Stabilize furniture so it can’t tip over.
  5. Put rubber stoppers at top of doors.
  6. Remove all small objects from the floor. Get rid of dangling cords on blinds, curtains and other item
  7. For infants and toddlers, put baby gate at top of stairs.
  8. Remove small rugs or other items that can be tripped over.
  9. Put houseplants out of reach.

Step-Grandparenting

Yours may be one of many families in which there are both grandchildren and step-grandchildren. The blending of families can be a complicated and stressful process for everyone involved. Because relationships are developed over time, it may take several years for step families to become a sold family unit.

As a grandparent, you will want to consider how you will be involved in this new family unit. There are definitely special considerations. Become involved right away. As soon as you know that there will be step children, talk to your family about how they will handle the new family situation. Let them know you want to be a part of the process and also get to know the step children. Become involved in the family discussions and be introduced to the step children as soon as possible. You will always want to follow and respect the decisions your children make.

Take the time to talk with and get to know your step-grandchildren. Plan activities and share your interests with them just as you do with your grandchildren. Get to know them as individuals. Let them know that you are there for them. Creating a role that is comfortable for you is essential for a rewarding step-family life. This will take time, patience, and listening.

Grandparenting At a Distance Grandparenting Close By
For many families, “over-the-meadow and through-the-woods” is now “over-the-phone and through-the-mail or Internet”. Even at a distance, though, you can develop a rewarding relationship with your grandchildren. Here are some ways to stay in touch: Even if your family lives close by, work schedules, school, and other activities can still make spending quality time with your grandchildren a challenge. Planning ahead of time can help. Here are some ways to stay in touch close by:
Call your grandchildren regularly, on the same day, same time, so they become familiar with your voice. Arrange regular visits with your family, such as Sunday dinners, picnics, and barbecues.
Send a photo of yourself. Volunteer at your grandchildren’s child care center or in their classroom.
Record yourself (audio or video) reading stories or singing songs. Attend grandchildren’s sporting or extracurricular activities on a regular basis.
Write letters, include articles or drawings. Spend alone time with each grand child you have: go to a movie, take a walk,
Send e-mails to older grandchildren. go to the park, ride a bike, cook a meal together.
Choose a time to be on the computer at the same time and send instant messages. Talk to your grandchildren about what they like to do, things they are interested in.
Ask your grandchildren to mail or fax their drawings, schoolwork, letters or projects. Plant a garden together and take care of it together.
Put together a scrapbook or photo album of people, places, things from your past or that interest you and send it to your grandchildren as a keepsake. Put together a family tree or family history together and share it with the entire family.
Ask and take an interest in your grandchildren’s interests and hobbies.
Send tokens from places that you visit or have visited.
Arrange to see your grandchildren either on holidays or special visits whenever possible.

Recommended Resources

  • Websites
  • Books
    • The Essential Grandparent: A Guide, Lillian Carson
    • Raising Our Children’s Children, Deborah Doucette-Dudman
    • Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family, Sylvie De Toledo
    • Robert Lives With His Grandparents, Martha Whitmore Hickman
    • To Grandma’s House We…Stay: When You Have to Stop Spoiling Your Grandchildren and Start Raising Them, Sally Houtman
    • Totally Cool Grandparenting: A Practical Handbook, Leslie Linsley

The Daily Parent is prepared by NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

© 2012 NACCRRA. All rights reserved.

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