Grandparents are gifts that keep on giving. Literally. They give without requesting anything in return. However, this unconditional love can come with a price.
I recently read about how grandparents who are raising their grandchildren face increased health risks. I never thought about this as I watched grandparents in the grocery store with their grandchildren or those who read to them faithfully at the local library. I just commended them for being there for children who might have lost a parent or need a safer home environment.
My Aunty Mimi is a grandmother and a great-grandmother. Growing up, I would marvel at how much her grandchildren loved her and vice versa. My cousins visited often and never wanted to go home. After all, the fun was at Grandma Mimi’s house.
My aunt is in her 70s, and the fun has slowed down a little. She is as active as she can be for her age, but I have noticed she can’t do what she used to. I used to ask her, “Why don’t you just say ‘no’” when she was asked to take my cousins to school or to summer camp. Her response was, “If I take them, I know they’re safe.” I couldn’t argue with that and she was right.
According to data from AARP, across the United States there are almost 7.8 million children who are living in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the household caregivers. There are more than 5.8 million children living in grandparents’ homes and nearly 2 million children live in other relatives’ homes. These families are often called “grandfamilies.”
More than 2.5 million grandparents are taking on the responsibility for these children. Many other relatives also take on this responsibility, too. They often assume this responsibility with neither of the children’s parents present in the home. In fact, nearly 1 million children are living in homes where the grandparent is the household caregiver and neither parent is present in the home, according to AARP. These numbers say a lot about the men and women who are committed to caring for their grandchildren, sometimes at the cost of their own health.
A Chicago woman interviewed in the news article I read said, “I guess all would be good if I was 35 and I had the energy to keep up,” she said. “I don’t have the energy, but I love them.” She is 64 years old and up until two years ago had been raising six children, including twin granddaughters, a niece and the girl’s three siblings. No one could doubt her love, and I’m sure those children appreciate her.
Grandparents serving as parents are part of an ongoing and increasing trend. They have become so much more than a routine visit during the holidays or the occasional weekend getaway hosts. They have become parents for life, in a sense. Those caring for grandchildren take on this responsibility for a variety of reasons. No matter the reason, they are to be commended for their dedication and deserve our respect. I know they will always have mine.