A teacher at a school that I work in recently lamented the surprising rise in complicated family structures and differences in last names. It is hard to constantly keep track of who belongs to whom. Maybe I see it more because I work for the school system, but it’s not uncommon these days for children to be raised by someone other than a birth parent. Its called Kinship care…. that’s when a child is raised by either a relative or a close family friend who is like family to the child. The Ann Casey foundation out of Florida estimates that approximately 5 million children in the US are being raised in kinship care. They estimate that 1 in 11 children will be in Kinship care at some point in their lifetime.
My family could now be the poster children for complicated… children being raised by a biological grandfather/step grandmother born to one mother and two different dads, but with other siblings through out the world, friends sometimes have a hard time understanding who is related to whom. I was particularly annoyed with a woman the other day when I made a comment about my five children.. and she said… “but they aren’t really yours” … On the contrary.. they are MINE… each child that lives under my roof (and the one in college) gets fed, clothed, nurtured, disciplined and loved .. I’ve wiped noses, swatted bottoms, held them while they cried and sat up late nights working on science projects for all of them… they ARE MINE.. just because I didn’t give birth to the three youngest does not negate my relationship.
I’ve been toying/talking with other kinshippers. about starting a support group. For what purpose? Just to get/give the support we need in raising someone else’s child. There are some resources out on the internet, but it takes quite a bit of searching to find some help. Each state has a group of philanthropists who , will help with money, access to welfare and grants…which is wonderful, but sometimes its just the emotional support we need. This life we lead is such a mix of emotions, love, anger, embarrassment, guilt, bitterness and joy.
Obviously we feel a great love for these children who were either abandoned or neglected by their own parents; but we also feel embarrassment/guilt for our “failure” (obviously if we had done more, been a better parent, we wouldn’t have raised a felon/drug addict/selfish person) Bitterness: the loss of our dream of time alone with our spouse as we now added more kids/time in our house more craziness to our life… Anger at losing the role of grandparent in the normal sense.. I don’t get to pick kids up early and spoil them, I have to check homework and make sure they aren’t failing math. My other grandchildren come to visit and are doted on, but then are sent home…I can’t dote on my littles, not the way I want to. ..I have to do it after chores and homework and
There are so many times we feel absolutely alone…As young as I am, I have some college/high school friends who waited to have children and actually have younger children than my grandchildren.. That wasn’t my plan, I had my kids early.. I had my daughter at 24 and my son at 27… I put my time in with Girl Scouts and little league, my friends were the moms and dads of my children’s friends. Now as I watch many of my friends laughing and enjoying empty nest and I sometimes get swept up in waves of jealousy . We didn’t get to have that.. just as our kids were becoming independent, we started over….not with babies, but with elementary school kids. Kids we didn’t get to cuddle as babies and snuggle with as toddlers. Having only spoken to them on the phone and had one brief visit when they were young, we didn’t have the wonderful bond we have with our own children. The joy is that they fit right into place. I still had one in middle school, so three in elementary school wasn’t too far of a jump. When we sit in church together, it looks as if I just kept having kids.. no real gaps, all within a nice range. I know other grandmothers who had had life without children for several years before they became guardians.. they have to remember what it was like to have a small child, they have to get back into the habit of checking homework, and enforcing bed times… I at least have the advantage of still being in the loop. I know all the current technology, we were still involved with the community, but we were seeing the end of the tunnel.. a time when we wouldn’t be needed quite so much and could just spend time together. I joke with my friends that I would be bored and lonely if I didn’t have the grandchildren here, but its mostly true.. my husband and I are opposites, I’m super social, he is my homebody… having the grandkids has made us widen our social circle and embrace life on the run.
I am so very fortunate that I came from a big family and I work in the school system. I have an amazing support network both here in the area and throughout the east coast. I have people I can call to get advice, information and I have shoulders to cry on. People call me amazing, but I don’t feel it. I know I couldn’t do what I do without the support I seek out from others… I think it may be time to offer out that support to other Grandmas like me.