More seniors raising grandchildren

Jan. 24, 2013 @ 09:51 PM

For numerous reasons, more and more grandparents today find themselves once again taking the role of parent for their grandchildren. 

Sometimes the parent is not in the picture and sometimes the parent is working multiple jobs and needs the grandparent to watch their children. For whatever the reason, grandparents find themselves in the dual role. 

Mary McAfee, 80, found herself spending more and more time taking care of her grandchildren after retirement. 

"When you retire, they just seem to appear," McAfee said. 

She does not take care of her grandchildren full-time like some grandparents. She watches them after school, takes them to doctor appointments and sometimes gets them ready in the morning. 

Her grandchildren range from three years old to ninth-grade students. They all live near her house. The older ones pretty much take care of themselves though McAfee, a retired teacher, often helps with homework.

McAfee attends a support group for grandparents raising their grandchildren held through the Union County Council on Aging. 

"I find that's very helpful," McAfee said. "It gives you a chance to just breathe and see what someone else is doing."

She noted that some grandparents have it harder than she does, like grandparents with total responsibility of their grandchildren or grandparents of children with behavioral problems. 

"I haven't had the problems that I have heard of in this group," McAfee said. 

In the past, McAfee attending a class held by the Council on Aging for grandparents raising grandchildren. 

"The program itself, I found very beneficial," McAfee said. 

The Council on Aging staff hopes to hold the class again in the spring.

"What we're finding is that the grandparents are so entrenched in grandparenting that they're not really taking time to care for themselves," Caregiver Specialist Rebecca Broadway said.

There is a core group of six to eight grandparents who regularly attend the support group and have taken the classes. 

"We know there are a lot more grandparents out there and we would love to have the classes and have a larger attendance at the support group," Broadway said. 

Many grandparents have difficulty finding the time to attend because they must care for their grandchildren, she added. 

Broadway said the role can be difficult for grandparents fill because they lack legal rights and they are unsure how to acts as parents and grandparents. Because they lack legal rights, they can be taken advantage of due to the emotional component of the situation, she added.

"Often they don't have any rights as grandparents...unless they adopt the grandchildren," Broadway said. "Often the children are just left in their care...then it just kind of evolves to where the grandparents are the primary caregiver."

Broadway knows there are many grandparents they are not serving with the class or the support group. Sometimes they call for support, but cannot get away to attend a class, she said. 

The class is a four-part series that runs over the span of four days. Each day has a theme. The first day is about how they got into that position, since it is most likely not what they planned for retirement. The second day looks at how they discipline toddlers and teenagers while still being a loving grandparent. The third day examines how and when they find time for themselves and the fourth day is about being on an emotional roller coaster and not being able to get off. 

"We got really positive feedback," Broadway said. "They said they found it very helpful."

McAfee attended the class, even volunteering her church as a place to hold the classes. 

She said she sometimes struggles with when to discipline the grandchildren. 

"You have to hold back sometimes," she said. "I find myself trying to be a do what they say they want you to do."

"You just can't take charge, that breeds resentment if you do that," McAfee said. 

She noted that she has not had any conflicts with their parents yet. 

McAfee encourages other grandparents to attend the support group meetings and the classes. 

"If it doesn't do anything but give you some relief, it bolsters your morale so that you know you're not out there by yourself," McAfee said. "Sometimes you get overwhelmed."

She hopes to see more grandparents there. 

"(It) gives you somebody to relate to, talk to, it helps me just to know you have another person out there that you can call if you need one," McAfee said. 

Support group meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month at 10:30 a.m. at the Union County Council on Aging office, 1401 Skyway Drive in Monroe.

For more information, call the Union County Council on Aging at 704-292-1797.