By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Parenting children the first time around is hard enough. Doing it again as a grandparent is even more daunting and exhausting.
But more grandparents are finding themselves in the role of parent with their grandchildren. So on Wednesday, Bowling Green City Schools hosted a Grandparent Resource Night at Kenwood Elementary.
“We have a lot of grandparents out there in the district raising their grandchildren,” said teacher Jonelle Semancik. “They don’t know where to turn for help.”
Kenwood Principal Kathleen Daney said she previously worked in Lucas County, where a Kinship Caregiver program exists to help grandparents who find themselves as parents again.
“There’s nothing here to support the grandparents,” Daney said. “And every year there are more and more.”
So Daney asked Judy Paschalis, who previously coordinated the Kinship program in Lucas County, to share her expertise in Bowling Green.
“It’s desperately needed everywhere,” Paschalis said of support for grandparents. “It’s one of the most complex family situations.”
Paschalis said in 2010, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of children were being raised by their grandparents. That number has continued to increase, she said, with drugs and alcohol being the cause 99 percent of the time.
“I can say I know what you’re going through – because I really do know what you are going through,” Paschalis told the audience of grandparents. She and her husband have been raising their 9-year-old granddaughter since she was 4.
The job is tough for so many reasons, one being emotional.
“It’s no fun having a grandchild cry because she wants her mommy,” Paschalis said. “She’s really angry at me because I’m not her mommy.”
And when parents don’t show up for planned visits, the grandparents are left picking up the pieces again. So these children have lots of “trauma” and more “worries” than most children.
There’s also the expense of becoming a parent again in later life, when incomes are fixed.
“And then, of course, you have to buy new clothes and shoes every three months,” Paschalis said.
Then, there’s the stigma that comes with raising grandchildren – as if their failures with their own children caused them to desert the grandchildren.
“You didn’t do so hot with your children,” Paschalis said. “People can make them feel bad about that if they let them.”
But Paschalis urged grandparents to disregard that judgment.
“You have no reason to be ashamed,” she said.
Paschalis stressed that services are available to grandparents parenting again. There may be cash benefits, Medicaid and child support. If they can’t get custody, they at least need power of attorney.
“There is help out there that you may need,” she said.
And since school has changed a lot since they first parented, they need to be persistent in asking questions. Don’t let educators use acronyms.
“It’s intimidating to people,” she said.
Paschalis said her granddaughter’s grades are poor, so she has learned to ask for assessments and seek help.
Paschalis suggested a support group be formed for grandparents and another for the grandchildren they are raising.
“They need something to help them through their pain and suffering,” she said of the children. Even something as simple as an occasional spaghetti dinner can be good for the kids and save the grandparents from having to prepare another meal.
One of the grandparents at Wednesday’s meeting was Deb Page, of Bowling Green. Like the others, Page thought she was done parenting, but now has custody of two grandchildren, ages 9 and 10. She was looking for advice on being patient, and on how to find good babysitters.
Another grandparent, Brenda Nelson-Richter is now raising a 14 month old.
“She’s a blessing to us. But you don’t expect to jump right back in having a baby,” she said.
“Somebody’s got to do it. We’re her grandparents, so it’s our duty,” Nelson-Richter said.
She attended the event to find information on programs and to talk to others in the same predicament.
“When you’re in a situation like this, you feel like you’re alone,” Nelson-Richter said.
The organizations present at Wednesday’s gathering included outreach literacy programs at BGSU; BG City Schools counselors, curriculum, technology, preschool and special education; BG Parks and Recreation; Wood County Job and Family Services; United Way; Children’s Resource Center; STARS; Girl Scouts; and the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities.