Grandparents play a variety of roles in their grandchildren’s lives. Depending on how far they live from their children, many treasure the time spent with them. Some resist the “tag” of grandpa and grandma and see it as a sign of getting older. Others, specifically those who reside not far from them, embrace the relationship with their children’s children.
While some grandparents take on daycare responsibilities, others reside with the grandchild and parents under the same roof. In other cases, issues with the parents result in grandparents becoming the primary caregiver for their grandchildren. The seismic shift of becoming what is known as “grandfamilies” brings fear and uncertainty to everyone involved in the new dynamic.
Millions caring for their grandchildren
Last year, one in ten children (totaling 7.5 million) under 18 lived with a grandparent. While some of these kids lived in multigenerational households, 2.5 million grandparents were primarily responsible for their grandchildren’s care and basic needs. That adds up to more than a third of all grandparents in the U.S.
A variety of situations result in a grandparent taking over the role of parent. Not all of them involve a serious problem or failure of a parent. They include:
- Drug and alcohol addiction
- Mental health or emotional problems
- Neglecting, abandoning, or abusing children
- Domestic violence that leads to divorce
- Parents convicted of a crime and incarcerated
- A young and/or inexperienced parent who cannot handle the responsibility
- A parent suffering from health problems or dying
- Instability in the home, including homelessness
- Inability to provide for children financially
- Military deployment
According to studies, a grandparent’s parental “tenure” can range from a few months to several years. Eighteen percent of grandparents have provided care for less than a year, twenty-one percent for one to two years, sixteen percent for three to four years, and 45 percent for five years or more.
The sudden change in family dynamics can be traumatic for everyone involved. Children, in particular, are impacted when grandparents replace parents temporarily or permanently. Their best interests are of paramount importance.