fred brewer"I want to be Grandpa, y'know? Take my grandson fishing and for walks in the woods, fill him up with hot chocolate, send him home to mom and dad all spun out, and let them deal with what Grandma and Grandpa dealt with, with OUR kids! Our goal wasn't to raise these kids, it was to be just an interim place for these kids to be."
       -- Fred Brewer, custodial grandparent of four children, ages 2-6

A Parent Again?

The average age of grandparents raising their grandchildren is 54. The decision involves some major lifestyle changes on the part of the "grands." If they haven't yet retired, their work schedules must shift to accommodate children. Retirees must often go back to work, but now require the flexibility usually reserved for younger parents.

Grandparents' social lives change. Their incomes dwindle. Those who live in "seniors only" retirement communities have to move.

"Grands" also find a world quite changed since they raised their own children. Everything -- from school, homework, and discipline methods, to what kids do with their free time -- is different.

"The first time I parented, kids could go out and play, ride their bikes all over town and be gone for hours," Linda Dripps recalls. "Now, I only let the grandkids ride to the corner. I don't want to scare them, but it's a scary world."

The children may also arrive with built-in problems: resentment and confusion at being uprooted, anger at their parents, and an automatic mistrust of adults. A common diagnostic term used to describe children who've been "ping-ponged" between homes is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). But what most of the problems boil down to is that the kids are hurt. So they test the grandparents' patience and rules, to see if they'll stay-or abandon them. As a result, "Grands" find themselves dealing with some very angry children, who may require therapy as well as medical attention.

"The grandparents are also hurt about their own children," explains Licensed Clinical Social Worker Barbara Robinson. "And they're right to think that things are different. They have children in their home who didn't arrive the same way their birth children did! And they (grandparents) are going through a loss, too...their plates are running over."

All this is why staying healthy and finding a support system should be major priorities of grandparent caregivers. Check out our Resources for Grandparents to learn more. It can be especially helpful to join a support group.

"I tell people over and over again, and I can't emphasize it enough, 'Come to a support group meeting,'" says Georgia Mackley of the Idaho KinCare Coalition. "I haven't been through their experience, but I can almost guarantee that somebody in our support group has….even if they choose not to stay and become part of it, come to the support group so they can ask their questions."

The good news is, many grandparents say their lives are more full -- and definitely livelier -- with a younger generation in the house.

"Krystal asks questions, calls us 'Mom' and 'Dad,' and laughs with us," says Alejo Munoz about his 13-year-old granddaughter. "If she wasn't around, we would be two lonely people...children bring joy, and she has brought joy to our lives."

"My reward is seeing a new facial expression, or one of the kids coming home from preschool excited about a drawing they did," says Merla Brewer of her grandkids.

"And it's worth it," adds her husband Fred, "because a lot of children don't have Grandma and Grandpa to fall back on. They end up in foster care, or slipping through the cracks...I believe you're a parent till the day you die. And when they start having children, you're a grandparent-till the day you die."