Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shifting Roles: GAPs

In May 2011, I thought my life was headed toward the good times. My daughter graduated from high school and would be moving out on her own within a couple of years. My special needs son had an established routine of work and adult day program. I was newly married and in the middle of remodeling our home. I had only four years left to work. Then I could travel or do nothing. I longed for time to actually make something I saw on Pinterest, for time alone with my already retired husband, for time to just be carefree.

Yes, I was going to be sitting easy. That was my plan.

Just two months later, my plan changed when my 7-year-old granddaughter came to live with us. Her moving in with us was not simple because it also brought many court/lawyer/mediator visits along with a tremendous financial cost, but I had to do it. Her parents did not make wise choices with their lives, and she needed to be protected. If you are a grandparent, you probably agree that the love for a grandchild is so different from the love for a child. Our role is to have fun with them and enjoy their growth without having to be as responsible as we were with their parents.

So much for my plan. 

Even though my granddaughter is a very easy-going child, the transition into our household was difficult. She missed her mom and dad, and like most kids, held on to the belief that she would go back to live with them. My marriage of six months was under tremendous strain. My college freshman wasn’t pleased with having to share her room with a first grader. My special needs son suddenly didn’t get all the attention anymore. I felt caught in the middle with trying to please everyone.  My role shifted from the spoiler to the disciplinarian, a role no grandparent wants. I was supposed to be the person who supplied the fun and excitement for her while her parents took care of the rules.

My situation is not a unique one. In the U.S., almost 7.8 million children are living in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the caregivers. Grandparents are raising 5.8 million and other relatives care for the remaining 2 million.

Now, three years later, I found a manual for this very situation that I wish I had known about earlier – Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family by Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown. This book should be provided free of charge to every grandparent raising his or her grandchildren.

The content covers every topic a GAP might experience. It is a support group in itself because there are different stories and situations about parental death, abandonment, addiction, mental illness, etc. The authors included information on government aid, legal issues, education, setting boundaries, and just surviving from one day to the next. I also found information about actual support groups in the area.

I counted my blessings when I read about the 70+-year-old grandparents now raising a newborn, the ones living in a one-bedroom apartment with four grandchildren and the ones who have to choose between their grandchildren and spouse.

The past three years have been hard, to say the least; however, my family, especially my granddaughter, has learned to roll with it. She has gone from an extremely shy little girl to one who now has lots of friends. She’s involved in dance, chorus and church and is also an excellent student who rarely misbehaves. 

We are all so proud of her. My husband, who had no grandchildren of his own, has taken care of her when she’s sick, hauled her to activities, listened to countless read-aloud books and attended recitals. My special needs son has learned to just ignore her when she gets on his nerves or she gets more attention than he. My daughter moved on to college and her own apartment. And I’m in the rut again of daycare, checking homework and elementary school open house.

Richard and Cloee carved a one-of-a-kind crazy pumpkin for Halloween.

Christmas 2013 -- a typical, ordinary disfuntional family pose.

It’s not the path I envisioned that I would travel at my age; however, it’s the one I have. Is it fair? Probably not, but as I’ve said in an earlier post, fair is where you get cotton candy. I, like the other 5.8 million grandparents who had to shift roles, care for our grandchildren because of one reason -- the extraordinary love we have for them.