Are you a GAP or a GRG? The phenomenon of grandparents raising grandchildren has become so commonplace that it has spawned a couple of acronyms: grandparents as parents (GAPs) and grandparents raising grandchildren (GRGs). It is not a new phenomenon, but it may be growing. Death, divorce, drug problems, incarceration and other issues may precipitate the transfer of the grandchildren from parents to grandparents. Grandparents as parents have a number of issues to deal with, but there are a great many places to look for help.
1. Legal Status
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The legal arrangements that can be made by grandparents as parents are basically adoption, guardianship, foster parent status and caregiver's authorization. Seeking to adopt a grandchild is usually an emotionally and financially draining task, although it has the most secure outcome for the grandparent and the child. At the very least, GAPs/GRGs should have caregiver authorization papers so that they can make decisions about medical care, schooling and similar issues. Exactly what type of paperwork is needed varies from state to state. Without any of these legal measures in place, authorities may view the grandparents as simply babysitting the grandchild, and there may be little available to them in the way of assistance.
2. Financial Support
Although grandparents are generally speaking better off financially than their children, they also have a shorter future in the workforce, if indeed they are still working. In addition, they also may not have made allowances in their financial planning for the cost of raising grandchildren. One expense that can be major is health insurance. If children are not covered on a parent's insurance, grandparents may have difficulty getting them placed on their own insurance. Various types of financial assistance
are available for GAPs/GRGs. Some states allow them to qualify as foster parents and to receive the same benefits as other foster parents. Some relief may be available through Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF).
3. Emotional Health of the GrandchildrenWhatever the circumstances that led to the placement of the grandchildren with the grandparents, the children themselves will also feel the effects. Children usually mourn the loss of parental presence, even if the parents were abusive or ineffectual. The emotional and behavioral problems that may result can run the gamut from mild to very serious, from acting out at school to suicidal behavior. Interestingly, boys usually demonstrate more outward effects, although girls may be suffering just as much. In the more severe cases, counseling is necessary, and that may put another strain on the grandparents’ finances, although counseling may be available through non-profit organizations for free or at reduced cost.
4. Emotional Health of the GrandparentsGrandparents do not come into the parenting role unless there has been a significant disruption in the family. In the case of the death of the parents, grandparents may have to deal with their own grief, which can be crippling. In cases of drug addiction, incarceration, mental illness, AIDS/HIV and many other situations, the grief also can be almost overpowering. Less traumatic events, such as divorce or geographical relocation, carry their own burden of stress and worry over the parent’s new circumstances. In many cases, a support group of grandparents in similar situations can be a valuable resource. In other cases, counseling is called for. Sometimes grandparents and grandchildren can benefit from being counseled as a family.
5. Grandparents' Health
Some grandparents have physical problems that restrict their ability to fully participate in their grandchildren’s lives. Though this can be a concern for all grandparents, for GAPs/GRGs it can be a critical matter requiring cooperation among all family members. Other family members should step in when needed so that the children are not forced to face yet another move. Even healthy grandparents will probably experience times when their stamina fails. This situation can be exacerbated by a busier schedule, which can make it difficult for them to get regular exercise
and health care. The obvious conclusion is that grandparents must put their own health first, but that can be difficult for overscheduled and exhausted caregivers to do.
6. Family Harmony
Relationships with other family members are often complicated when grandparents become GAPs/GRGs. If the situation is the result of one child being an irresponsible parent, other siblings may feel that their sibling is being rewarded for bad behavior. They may feel that the in-house grandchild is favored over their own children. Certainly the grandparents are likely to have less time, energy and money to spend on the other grandchildren. The grandparents will need to communicate effectively with their adult children
. The non-residential grandchildren may feel the change a good deal also and may act out their resentment. In addition, raising grandchildren can put considerable stress on the marital relationship.
7. Separation from PeersGrandchildren who move in with grandparents often must sacrifice valued peer relationships. If the distances are not too great, grandparents should try to keep positive friendships viable for their grandchildren by arranging visits. Similarly, GAPs/GRGs often must give up or cut back on relationships that they have enjoyed with their own peers. Activities such as taking trips with an RV club or playing bridge on a weeknight may have to be foregone in order to fulfill child care obligations. Since strong peer relationships are key for good mental health, both grandparents and grandchildren will benefit if arrangements can be made for them to spend time with their valued peers.