The Rise of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

The phenomenon of grandparents stepping in as primary caregivers for their grandchildren is on the rise. This trend underscores the deep bonds within families. It highlights the challenges and rewards older adults face in adopting a parenting role once again.

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The Rise of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
5 Min Read February 24th, 2024

Across the United States, a quiet revolution is unfolding in family dynamics. An increasing number of grandparents are stepping into parents' shoes and raising their grandchildren full-time. This phenomenon, known as "kinship care," is driven by a complex interplay of social, economic, and demographic factors. While this trend offers stability and love for children in need, it also presents a unique set of challenges for the older generation, impacting their health, finances, and future plans.

In 2022, the National Kinship Alliance estimates that approximately 2.5 million grandparents are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, assuming full responsibility for their physical, emotional, and financial well-being. This is a significant representation of how big an issue grandfamilies are becoming in the U.S. 

Impact on Grandparents' Health

Raising grandchildren can significantly impact the physical and mental health of older adults. Studies have shown that grandparents raising grandchildren are more likely to experience chronic health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and depression. This increased stress and responsibility can lead to sleep disturbances and weakened immune systems, making them more susceptible to illnesses. Furthermore, many grandparents sacrifice their own social lives, hobbies, and leisure activities to focus on their grandchildren's needs, leading to feelings of isolation and social withdrawal.

A health infographic.

When the Caregiver Needs Care

A critical concern for these "step-parents at sixty" is the question of what happens when their own health begins to decline and they require long-term care. This scenario can create a double burden, leaving both the grandparents and their grandchildren vulnerable. Fortunately, several resources and support systems are available to help families navigate this complex situation.

Grandparents who are considering raising their grandchildren should take proactive steps to prepare for the future. Here are some crucial actions they can take:

  • Legal Planning: Seek legal counsel to establish guardianship or custody arrangements, ensuring they have the legal authority to make critical decisions regarding the children's well-being.
  • Financial Planning: Review their finances and explore options like Social Security benefits, retirement savings, and potential government assistance programs to support their new family structure.
  • Long-Term Care Planning: Discuss long-term care options like Long-Term Care Insurance with professionals. 
  • Support Groups: Connect with local support groups or online communities for grandparents raising grandchildren. These connections offer valuable emotional support and practical advice from individuals facing similar challenges.

Navigating New Responsibilities

If you find yourself as a parent for a grandchild, it's vital to establish areas where you'll need help and those you can handle alone at the onset of everything. The stress of adopting a new lifestyle at an advanced age can be overwhelming, which is why you need to secure all the help you can get as early as possible. Whether it's reaching out to a support group or other family members for help, the best form of help should solve your biggest pain points in this new role you're embracing. 

Grandparents taking on full-time parenting roles face unique challenges, many of which they have not had to think about for a long time.

School

Familiarizing themselves with the local school system is crucial. Grandparents can contact the school's main office, explain their situation, and seek guidance on enrollment procedures, educational programs, and available resources for families with similar circumstances. 

They can also attend school events, meet with teachers, and advocate for their grandchildren's needs.

Health

Finding a reliable pediatrician is paramount. Asking trusted friends, family, or even the school for recommendations is a valuable starting point. You can also consult online resources to find a pediatrician tool to search for qualified health providers in their area. 

Today, many pediatrician offices have hired pediatric nurses who've undergone the best online PNP programs to assist in their practices, giving their patients and their families access to care when needed. 

Grandparents should gather and maintain their grandchildren's medical records, attend doctor appointments, and understand their medical history and current needs. This proactive approach ensures their grandchildren receive the necessary medical care and support.

Bridging the Gap: Connecting with Your Grandchild's Generation

For grandparents stepping into the role of full-time parents for their grandchildren, understanding their generation's social and cultural landscape can be an enriching yet daunting task. Here are some ways to bridge the generational gap and foster deeper connections:

1. Embrace Curiosity

  • Ask questions: Approach your grandchild with a genuine interest in their world. Ask open-ended questions about their hobbies, friends, music, and social media preferences. Listen actively and avoid judgment.
  • Embrace new experiences: Be open to trying new things that your grandchild enjoys, whether it's a new video game, watching their favorite show together, or exploring a popular music genre.

2. Explore Technology

  • Learn the ropes: Familiarize yourself with the social media platforms your grandchild uses. Ask them to walk you through the features and explain their online interactions. This doesn't require becoming a social media expert, but building a basic understanding can foster communication.
  • Embrace the potential: Recognize the positive aspects of technology. Use video calls to connect with distant family members, discover educational apps and games together, or explore online resources relevant to their interests.

3. Engage in Conversation

  • Seek common ground: Discuss historical events you lived through and compare them to current events that interest your grandchild. Find shared interests, like movies, books, or hobbies, and explore them together.
  • Respect their individuality: Remember that not all teenagers are the same, and your grandchild's experiences may differ from your own. Avoid making generalizations about their generation and acknowledge their unique personality and interests.

4. Be a Supportive Listening Ear

  • Offer a safe space: Make it clear that you are always available to listen without judgment. Encourage them to confide in you and offer support without forcing advice.
  • Validate their feelings: Acknowledge their emotions and understand their perspective, even if you don't always agree.

5. Celebrate Differences

  • Embrace the learning opportunity: View the generational differences as a chance to learn and grow alongside your grandchild. Appreciate their unique perspective and embrace the opportunity to expand your own understanding of the world.
  • Focus on shared values: While cultural and social aspects may differ, fundamental values like honesty, kindness, and respect are often shared across generations.

By adopting these strategies, grandfamilies can bridge the generational gap and build stronger bonds. Remember, the journey of connecting with your grandchild is a continuous process that requires patience, open-mindedness, and a willingness to learn and grow together.

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About the Author

Linda is a former journalist who now enjoys writing about topics she is interested in so she “can keep her mind active and engaged”.

LTC News Contributor Linda Maxwell

Linda Maxwell

Contributor since December 11th, 2017

Editor's Note

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