Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren

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Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

Many grandparents are the primary caretakers of their grandchildren. Matter of fact, the U.S. Census of 2000 found that over 2.4 million grandparents have responsibility for their grandchildren. Nearly six million children are being raised by their grandparents, according to a 2005 U.S. Census Bureau survey. This is a perplexing issue that places unbearable pressure on grandparents.

Why is this phenomenon occurring? How does this affect the children? How does this dynamic affect the relationship between the grandparents and their children who are unable to raise their own kids? Grandparents end up raising their grandchildren because their parents are incarcerated, have a mental disorder or have substance abuse/addiction issues, high rate of divorce, increase of single parent households, death of parents and AIDS.


Grandparents, many who are planning on a peaceful retirement or who already have a full plate with job and family responsibilities are suddenly thrust into the role of raising their grandkids. Somehow they have to find an extra gear to take care of their children’s kids. (Yes, often times it is more than just one child).

Sometimes the grandparents have legal guardianship over their grandchildren and sometimes they don’t. The informal arrangement of not having any legal standing can become problematic because there are no actual rules to follow.

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These children often have emotional problems due to neglect or abuse of their parents. Their parents have not established clear boundaries for these troubled kids. The children have not had the luxury of easily working through normal developmental stages. It is not unusual for them to have difficulty trusting others, having poor impulse control, having dramatic mood swings, having the inability to self soothe and difficulty bonding with adults.

The grandparents are under tremendous pressure and need all the support they can muster. If the grandparents are in a relationship with their adult children, often times it is a co-dependent relationship where the grandparents will allow their off spring to get away with acting out without any real consequences. Co-dependency occurs when you deny most of your own needs while focusing on the desires of another. This codependency is driven out of the fear of what may very well happen when the grandparents are unable to take care of the grandkids any longer due to debilitating health and their eventual death. The fear is that their grandkids will have to enter a state foster care system that is neglectful and has also been found to be abusive.The grandparents worry that this would be the very demise of these children. The grandparents realize that it is essential for their adult children to get their lives together in order for them to resume raising their own children. During this time when the parents are supposed to be working through their issues; there are periods of relapse and selfish behavior.

For example, the grandparents will allow their adult children to live in their home, rent free in order to provide decent shelter and board for them. Often times this supreme act of kindness is not rewarded, matter of fact it is disrespected. That disrespect is demonstrated by staying out all night or disrupting the household with drama about the adult child’s latest primary relationship. The grandparents are faced with a decision to sever their ties with their child, to set firm boundaries which will be rebelled against or just allow this upsetting lifestyle to continue as is. It is a no win situation for everyone involved.

Many would say, “the grandparents should sever ties with their child until he can demonstrate accountability and maturity”. It is not that easy to totally end a relationship with your off spring and the grandparents worry how this termination would affect their grandkids. Could they possibly understand why they would not be seeing their parents anymore? In so many of these situations the children do love their parents and their parents reciprocate those feelings, but they cannot rise to the occasion to take care of their kids.

Grandparents have to become more patient and realize that life with their grandchildren is not going to go smoothly. Their once orderly house is now in constant disarray. The grandparents now have to deal with teachers and other parents. They have to learn to be flexible and not to be afraid or resistant to asking for help.

Keep Reading By Author Bob Livingstone, LCSW
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