Custodial grandparents dig into emotional, financial reserves
“I feel guilty because I don’t want my grandsons living with me. I love them dearly but I’m so tired ... I raised 4 children all on my own and just when I finally get a little breathing room ... my daughter starts getting high and I become an instant mama! It’s not fair ... and I’m mad and sad and I feel guilty and I feel like the bad guy for feeling this way ... but I feel like I got cheated out of being granny! Spoil ’em ... send ’em home. It’s all so overwhelming and I just want to scream, turn tail and run as fast and as far away from this as I possibly can. But then I look at those babies and I know I’m all they got! So I try to endure for them! Thank you for letting me vent. I’m gonna go cry now ...”
This was a post on a Facebook page called “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.” I didn’t write it, but, oh, how I can relate.
There were several hundred replies, and the vast majority went along these lines:
We hear you. We’ve all felt this way. Hang in there. It’s normal.
The anonymous grandmother who wrote this was obviously feeling the enormity of the situation she finds herself in. It hits me from time to time as well. There’s no escaping it. And though the good outweighs the bad – we couldn’t do it otherwise – the weight of this sudden responsibility is, at times, crushing.
We have babies when we’re young. There’s a reason for that. In our 20s, 30s and even 40s we can come pretty close to matching their energy level and speed. The level of noise they’re capable of doesn’t bother us so much because we know it’s coming.
We’re prepared. We’re more tolerant. We’re more patient.
Then, when you become a grandparent, you discover what grandparents have discovered since the dawn of time: When they get too noisy, or too ornery, or they become more than you can handle, you don’t have to yell, or scream, or discipline or anything else.
You just give them back, smile and say good luck, and then return to your quiet, peaceful empty nest.
But this perfect scenario abruptly ends when you become custodial grandparents. And there is no way to prepare yourself for the sudden onslaught of toddler mayhem that is now in your home to stay.
It’s almost like a never-ending freight train that crashes through your front door. You know you should try to stop it, but you’re afraid.
But time passes, and you find ways to get along with each other. You set rules and guidelines, things that they’ve never had before. And you enforce them, with love mostly, but sometimes with the dreaded discipline that grandparents should never have to use.
The good news is, they respond. And they still love you. And that’s really good.
Another harsh realization of starting over is the hit your bank account takes when you bring two extra mouths to feed into your home. Because, the thing is, addicts don’t have real jobs so there’s no child support.
And, my, how the expenses add up!
I have a good job and make decent money. And there was more than enough when it was just Susie and I. But I wasn’t prepared for the countless needs and wants of Izzy and Caleb.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. So I refinanced our home to lower the monthly bills. We were just over three years from owning it outright. Now it’s fifteen.
It was one of the most devastating and depressing things I’ve ever had to do.
It was also clearly necessary. And it worked. I have a little breathing room. If anything comes up I should be able to handle it.
And, of course, Izzy and Caleb are worth it. Especially when your heart overflows from the little things they do.
I was getting some work done not long ago when Izzy eased her way into my lap. She had in her hand a picture she drew. Four crude stick figures all lined up and in different shapes and sizes.
“Look, Papa,” she said, “I made this.”
“Wow,” I exclaimed, “that’s really good. Who are these people?”
“That’s you,” she explained, pointing at one figure, “and that’s Nana, and me and Caleb!” Then she looked at me with a huge smile. “See? It’s our family!”
A four-year-old, at that moment, put it all into perspective.
I can do this.
RICK JACOBS is a local author, columnist, process server and family man who lives in Bartlett with his wife and grandchildren. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.