Michael gently lifts his one-year-old granddaughter, speaks softly to her, and lets her know she’s special.
This scene is not unusual for grandparents. However, Michael and Julie are raising two of their grandchildren. Michael and Julie are over age 50.
The course of their lives has changed dramatically. Julie has given up career dreams of graduate school to raise grandchildren who had been in difficult situations.
According to AARP, 4.5 million children are being raised by their grandparents in this country, and another 1.5 million in households headed by other relatives. Of those numbers, 2.5 million children are without parents.
“Almost four years ago, we brought home a little boy to stay for a few days,” said Julie. “Four years later I have his sister. We didn’t every expect to be raising our grandchildren.”
Most people of this age group are anticipating retirement, slowing down and spending a few hours with their grandchildren and then sending them back home. They are looking forward to careers and fulfilling mutual relationships.
“Our daughter gave us guardianship of our grandson voluntarily,” said Julie. “We didn’t know what to expect, but we knew we had to keep that little boy safe.
“He didn’t understand,” she said. “All he could say is “Where did Mommy go?””
The boy had severe allergies and was on numerous medications. Now he takes one for seasonal allergies.
Julie home cooks all of the food, has a garden, and avoids processed meat and other foods. Now this child is healthy and has an unending supply of energy.
Both the biological parents had issues with addiction.
The grandparents have a more selfless attitude. “They are miracles,” Julie said. “Look at my grandchildren. They have no learning disabilities. I attribute that to nothing other than prayer.”
Being older has some advantages and Julie admits her parenting style has changed a lot since the first time around. “I believe we are better parents this time around.”
However, it still has not been an easy transition for this couple. “My husband and I say we wish we had a support group,” said Julie.
“There are so many emotions,” she said. “There’s love and adoration for the grandkids and anger at your children.”
They got the little girl when she was six months old. She had no attachment to anyone and could not sit up. Now one years old, she is saying a few words and walking.
“None of us at this age want to be raising a family,” she said. “We do this because it is the right thing to do. No one else will advocate for our grandchildren like we do. We have to balance love for our adult child and grief when we have to raise their children.”
“Most of the time it is a hoot,” said Michael. “It hasn’t affected our marriage, but it has changed how we spend our time.”
“It has made us more home bound,” he said. “Our friends have taken a hit.”
“Obviously God has intended this to be and has it figured out,” said Michael. “We just have to be happy with it.”
Julie said, “We didn’t have anybody else (in this situation) to talk to until we started talking. It (grandparents raising grandchildren) is epidemic in this country.”
She did research online and found all kinds of information. “I’d like to become a resource for other grandparents,” she said.
They are interested in a support group to trade information about the resources available and to navigate the system. They would like to be able to talk about the loneliness and isolation.
Those interested should call Julie at 620-786-2137.