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Planning Retirement Online

When Grandparents bring up the children


Increasing numbers of grandparents are taking on the task of bringing up their grandchildren because the parents themselves are unable or unwilling to do so. 

Jeanne Davies reports


Jean is a 61-year-old grandmother with a handful of problems and pleasures. She and her husband are bringing up their 10 year old grandson.  His mother, their daughter, is mentally ill and cannot care for her child. 

Jean is fortunate to live in Peterborough where a group of these second-time around parents gather at the Gunthorpe family centre to share experiences and to work on projects for schoolchildren and for themselves.  These grandmas and grandpas range in age from 43 to 61. Some have part-time jobs, one is a former nurse, another an accountant; some are full-time home- makers; some are helped by husbands or partners, others are raising children on their own. 

Support group for grandparents

Chris Leaves, director of the centre, organised the support group - the only one in the country - after she and her husband took on the care of two granddaughters and realised the need to talk out the experiences. 

These mid-lifers discovered they had little in common with friends who had raised their families but were now enjoying the empty nest.  One women tells of the harrowing illness and death of her 24-year-old daughter from  a kidney tumour, leaving young children. Gran took the two girls into her home. Their father was in a new relationship and unable to care for them. 

Nor would the trials of raising toddlers captivate the empty-nesters. A grandfather tells of raising two stepgrandchildren aged three and four.  The daughter?s partner had left her and she could not cope on her own. His problem is how to juggle his part-time job, his wife?s part-time job and to make sure one or the other is at home to mind the young ones.

Why parents give up

These grandparents are a growing band.  ?Mental illness, death of young mothers are not new,? says Chris Leaves.  ?But today the breakdown of families contributes more and more to the phenomenon. And the increase in teenage pregnancy.? 

But Leaves believes the major factor is the Children Act of 1989.  Before the act, when courts were ruling on who should take care of children in these situations,  the courts were putting them into local authority care, where they were put up for fostering or adoption.  Sensibly, the idea was changed to ?let?s keep it in the family?, meaning grandparents or other relatives.? 

The challenges for grandparents are large.  How do you explain to a six-year-old why their father or mother is unable to look after them?  What logic do you search for to explain to two adolescents that daddy really does care for them though he chose a second marriage and the stepchildren who came with it?

The Peterborough group goes for reassurance and love, kisses and cuddles - even more than they gave to their own children at a similar stage. 

Is the age gap a problem? 

Many of the group have gone back to school in order to grasp new maths and master computer technology so that they can help with the homework.

Are the children embarrassed about having grandparents at PTA meetings?  Not much says the head of the local school. It is common these days to  live in a no-traditional family.  A study revealed that in one class alone only three children resided in a household with both parents. 

Children cost money, which is tough on a retirement income.  Retirement savings may be spent on teenagers.  And some grandparents have no choice but to give up working.  Local authorities may help with a means-tested maintenance allowance, but procedures vary.  

Even so, ask any of these grandparents how they feel about their commitment, and they are unanimous.  ?It is immensely rewarding, worth every sacrifice.  We couldn?t do otherwise.?

To view previous articles in this series - see the laterlife-interest index page



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The above article is part of the features section of called laterlife interest. laterlife interest contains a variety of articles of interest for visitors to written by a number of experienced and new journalists.

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