By Shirley Shuman
Most middle-aged and older individuals fondly remember visits with their grandparents, whether for a day or a week. Not many years ago, and certainly this can still be true, grandparents were just that: grandparents. However, for far too many, this situation has changed. A large number of grandparents, here in our county, in our state, and in our nation, are raising their grandchildren. They have become “parents” once more, and everything does not always go smoothly in those situations.
Statistics from various sources, most using numbers from the US Census Bureau, show that 32.7 percent of America’s children are being raised by grandparents. That percentage increases to 54 percent in our state and according to two different sources, 70 to 80 percent in Braxton County. These statistics include a small number of one parent also living in the home. However, in most cases, these parents are unable to live alone.
How does all of this come about? The most frequent cause of parents’ abandoning or losing their children is drug abuse. In lieu of placing children in foster care, many agencies first turn to relatives, usually grandparents. One source showed that for every one child placed in a foster home, 25 live with relatives, again usually grandparents.
This often results in difficulties for those grandparents. Many of the older ones are living on fixed incomes, often below the poverty line. Suddenly, in place of two living on Social Security or Welfare checks, that number increases to three, four, or five. Such is the case in one of the four Braxton County grandparents who agreed to tell about raising their grandchildren.
One woman and her husband are raising three grandchildren because the father, their son, was on drugs and didn’t take care of them, and their mother had lost her right to them. Two of them, ages eight and ten, have been with the grandparents since they were rescued from their situation except for a brief period. The grandmother explained that her son did once “go to rehab and got the kids back.” However, that did not last long, “Then he met another woman and they had a baby girl. She called me and told me to come get her, that she couldn’t take care of her. So I did. The child was 14 months old.”
After this, the son lived with his parents and the children for a while. Then he left and took the children with him. Soon, he began taking the kids with him to “drug houses” and drug parties. Not long after this, a non-using friend of her son, came one night and informed her that her son was using drugs in front of the children and taking them to drug houses.
She describes what happened: “That night, my son’s friend and I went to his home at 1:00 a.m. and got the kids. His friend went back in and woke my son to tell him we had the kids and were taking them to my house,” she said. When her son was released from jail, he was going to visit his children, but he overdosed last month. Here she said the hardest thing she had ever had to do was “tell my son he couldn’t come back after he was released.”
Although these grandparents have no problems caring for the children financially, the grandmother admitted, “It’s a hardship. My husband retired two years ago, and we had plans for our retirement. We have to forget those for a while, because we are parents once again. We have to focus on giving them a good life and protecting them.” She finished with “We have health problems, and it’s difficult to be Mom and Dad at 60. It’s also hard to be Mom and Grandma at the same time.”
Another set of grandparents have had two of their grandchildren nine years. This is another story of drug abuse. The mother of the grandchildren left, and the father—their son, “was sent to prison because of drugs.” He has been released but doesn’t see the children. He does call them.
The two boys are now 11 and 13, and these grandparents are having difficulties. They live on a fixed income, and the grandmother said, “We struggle to feed them even though we do receive help from the government. That help just isn’t enough.”
These grandparents also face discipline problems with the younger boy. “He has been difficult for years,” the grandmother said. “I’ve talked to the school counselor, and she works with him, but that hasn’t helped much. We can’t afford to pay for another counselor,” she explained.
Despite these problems this woman and her husband face, they haven’t given up. “I love my grandchildren,” she declared.
Another grandmother’s story appears to have a more optimistic outcome although she feels “like a single mom raising two kids.” She and her husband to some extent are raising her step-son’s children, and, as many situations do, this came about because of drug abuse.
The grandparents have the son’s two children—a boy, 8, and a girl, 6. “We took them because my son and his girlfriend were both into drugs,” she explained. For a while, their father lived with her, but she began to see “things weren’t quite right.” She added, “One morning he couldn’t focus. He was going into withdrawal from heroin and meth.” That morning, she drove him to a rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania. On the way, he asked her, “Will you take care of my kids?” She couldn’t say No.
The next morning, she drove the children’s mother to Beckley to another rehab center. Then she went to the maternal grandparents’ home to get the two children, “and we’ve had them ever since,” she said. To be certain everything was legal, this grandmother hired a lawyer and obtained guardianship of the two children.
Asked about difficulties she faces raising grandchildren, she responded, “Mostly inconvenience. I have other grandchildren, and I can’t spend much time with them. I have no free time.” She also can’t spend much time with her husband because he travels for work.
In spite of all this, she declares, “We are a family, and it’s important for families to take grandkids in certain situations. I’m just glad I’m healthy enough, and I don’t have time to think about what I’m missing.”
Something comforting this grandmother/mother is that her stepson and his girlfriend have been clean for three years and live in Parkersburg where “they are working seriously for full recovery.” At her request, the court now allows him and their mother to visit, and they even received permission to take them to the beach for a short vacation. The future looks good for this family.
A fourth set of grandparents currently are raising their great-grandchildren after they raised their grandchildren—one the mother of the two great-grandchildren. This story begins with one son who worked away from home. He and his wife divorced, and she moved away. The grandparents lived just across the road, so the grandchildren stayed most of the time with them. They raised their son’s children, a girl and a boy until the boy was “16 or 17” and left to live with his mother. The girl attended three years of high school, became involved in drugs, left school, and worked for a short time. She lived alone until she had children; then, she moved back in with her parents, and her mother helped with the two children.
However, the mother (this woman’s granddaughter whom she had raised) moved to live alone when her children were 5 and 7. Although her grandmother does not know exactly what caused it, her granddaughter died at the age of 28, leaving the children orphans. The great-grandparents have since adopted them and are raising them, the boy now 16 and the girl 11, as their own.
This great-grandmother/mother noted that raising the great-grandchildren has so far been much easier than raising the grandchildren. “These two have been with us since they were born. They’re like our own children. Much of the problems with raising the grandchildren came from drugs early on, and that ruined both their lives. My grandson is also now dead,” she said.
For these two children and their great-grandparents, everything is going smoothly. Sadly, this does not often happen.