By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
The seven strangers sat around the table, not sure where to start. They had at least one common bond – they were all grandparents who are now raising their grandchildren.
The reasons varied. Some parents relinquished the rights to their children because of addictions to drugs or alcohol. But regardless of the reasons, the grandparents – who thought their days of daily parenting were done – were now raising another generation of their family.
Last week was the first of monthly support group meetings being held for “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren,” at the Wood County Educational Service Center.
Most of the grandparents started their stories by apologizing for feeling lost or complaining about their unexpected return to parenting.
Felicia Otte, a school and community based prevention specialist liaison with the educational service center, told the grandparents to stop apologizing.
“You have every right to feel that way,” Otte told them.
That opened the floodgates, relieving the grandparents from guilt, and allowing them to speak freely about their struggles with those who knew exactly what they were talking about. (Because none of them wanted their grandchildren to be embarrassed, they asked that their names not be used.)
One grandma talked about raising four grandchildren. One has attention deficit problems, and the specialists haven’t found the right medications to work for him yet. “I get a lot of phone calls from school,” she said.
Another woman has found herself in the “sandwich” generation. At the same time she is raising three grandchildren, she is also struggling with the fact that her own mother is slipping and needs to be placed in assisted living.
Then was the woman who has raised her teenage grandson since he was a toddler. She was able to offer words of encouragement and support to those just starting the journey.
The only grandfather of the group just recently had two grandchildren move in with him per a court order. “It could be till next week or it could be forever,” he said.
Another grandma told of taking in her two grandchildren off and on for years. It was just over two years ago that she realized the children were often home alone and taking care of themselves – so she stepped in. Her story got even more complicated, with her daughter overdosing and dying about 18 months ago, her grandson starting to wet the bed, and her not having time to properly grieve her daughter’s death.
“I’m beyond my breaking point,” she said.
The last to speak was a woman who took in her grand-niece after her niece was killed by a drunk driver. Initially, the father took care of the little girl, until she kept showing up with burned feet, broken bones, hungry and missing school.
“This was the last thing we wanted. We don’t want to be raising a little girl,” she said. Then her voice softened. “But we love her with all our heart.”
The grandparents shared stories about helping with homework – struggling especially “new math.” They talked about the financial demands that they had not planned for this time around.
“She came to us with the clothes on her back – that weren’t even hers,” one woman said.
They talked about not being able to retire, or just retiring to take it easy when they ended up with full households again.
“We’ll work until we can’t work anymore,” one grandmother said.
Otte said their feelings were natural.
“All your friends are taking off for the weekend,” she said. “You might be feeling a little resentment.”
They also shared a common frustration about dealing with the confusing legal system.
“The legal system is not a logical system,” one woman said.
They talked about the red tape to get medical coverage for their grandchildren.
“We don’t know how to work the system,” another said.
They talked about the addictions that led their children to abandon their own offspring.
In 2010, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of children were being raised by their grandparents. That number has continued to increase, with drugs and alcohol being the cause 99 percent of the time.
“Drugs are taking kids away from their kids,” a grandmother said.
Some struggled to find counseling for their grandchildren – some who are angry, some who are depressed, some who are having nightmares.
They talked about an endless list of needs – like legal help, therapists, financial aid, child care, food, help with utilities, transportation, plus special help for kids with special needs and mental health issues.
“I don’t know where to go to get help,” one said.
A middle school teacher sat in on the support group, to offer her assistance and perspective. It used to be that a handful of kids in each grade would have major emotional or other issues going on in their lives. Now those kids are the norm.
“They are worried about going home. Who’s going to be there,” she said. Students can’t concentrate on learning when they are worried about if there will be food for dinner, if a parent is going to be high, or if they will even be home.
“It’s spilling over,” into the classrooms, she said.
As the support group wrapped up for the evening, Otte asked each of the grandparents to share one joy of raising their grandchildren.
Some realized that they had missed out on a lot the first time around – by being too busy or too young to appreciate the wonder of young children.
“When they say ‘look at this butterfly,’ I just drop what I’m doing and go do it,” one woman said.
“If I didn’t have my grandchildren living in the house with me, I couldn’t see all the wonderful little things they are doing,” things that many grandparents miss by seeing them so infrequently, one woman said.
“If I didn’t have my grandkids, I’d be alone,” said one grandparent who recently lost a spouse.
“I have a purpose. Who else is going to do it,” another said.
The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group will meet on the second Wednesday of each month until June, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., in the Wood County Educational Service Center, on Dunbridge Road, Bowling Green. The meetings include a meal and childcare.
Anyone interested in attending may contact Otte at 419-354-9010, ext. 237 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.