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An estimated 2.7 million grandparents in the U.S. have the responsibility of taking care of their grandchildren. In some cases the parent is still in the picture; in others, grandparents step in to become the sole provider. Whatever the arrangement and whatever the reason for coming together, experts say there are many benefits for a child when they remain in the care of a family member. But there are challenges too. Grandparents who take on full responsibility may lack legal custody preventing access to basic services, and others may experience financial problems. Diane and her guests take a closer look at grandparent caregivers.
- Michelle Singletary syndicated columnist of "The Color of Money" for the Washington Post
- Donna Butts executive director, Generations United
- Linda Waite professor in urban sociology, University of Chicago
- Molene Martin president, Grandfamilies Parent Teacher Student Association in Baltimore
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Children who end up in the care of grandparents often have had difficult life circumstances. Their parents may have lost a job, passed away or been incarcerated. Experts say support for these grand-families is particularly crucial, but often overlooked. Joining us to talk about grand-families, Michelle Singletary of The Washington Post, Donna Butts of Generations United, Molene Martin of the Grand Families Parent Teacher Student Association in Baltimore.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us from the studios of WBEZ, Linda Waite of the University of Chicago. I'm sure there are many of you who are acting as grandparent caregivers. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. And thank you all for being with us.
MS. MICHELLE SINGLETARYOh, my pleasure.
MS. MOLENE MARTINIt's wonderful to be here, thank you.
MS. DONNA BUTTSThank you for having me.
MS. LINDA WAITEAnd I'm happy to be here from Chicago.
REHMI'm delighted to have you. Michelle Singletary, you were raised by your grandmother. Tell us about Big Momma.
SINGLETARYYeah. I went to go live with my grandmother when I was 4. There was actually five of us, my oldest sister who was 8, I was 4, a sister who was 3 and twin brothers who were about 14 months old.
SINGLETARYAs a whole package. And she brought us in. The circumstances were pretty tragic. Mom left, dad, well, issues and my -- she sent my grandfather to get us 'cause she had been worried about us and it turned out that it was some premonition that was correct because had she not, we would've probably died in a house fire.
REHMOh, my god.
SINGLETARYAnd I mean, when they got there, there was no food there. It was pretty bad.
REHMMichelle, how old was your grandmother when you went to live with her?
SINGLETARYYou know, I -- she was in her mid-50s at that time 'cause I lived with her until about a year after college so she was heading toward retirement.
REHMAnd you recall how old your mother was?
SINGLETARYYou know, I don't. I'm trying to think back. If I was 4, she probably was in her late 20s.
REHMDid you ever see her again?
SINGLETARYYes, I did. My mother was in and out of my life. I didn't probably see her again until I was maybe about 8 or 10. I've only seen my father maybe just a handful of times in my life.
REHMI see, I see. So really, you can say with all honesty your grandmother saved your life.
SINGLETARYShe did. I'm sorry. She really did and it's so funny because I know that lots of grandchildren who are living with their grandparents, you know, we all want to be with your mom and your dad. That's just what you're...
SINGLETARY...conditioned to. And so when I first went to live with her, my grandmother was really tough. She was a perfectionist. And I always like to joke that she was sort of a guardian angel and a drill sergeant all wrapped up in the same package. So while she was loving, you know, she was really tough and I remember just crying the first several years, just not wanting to be there, not realizing how blessed I was.
SINGLETARYAnd it's not till now that I realize that I wouldn't be who I am today had she not rescued me.
REHMMolene Martin, you have a personal story as well, as a matter of fact. You raised you own grandson.
MARTINYes. I raised my own grandson. He's 19 now. He's a student at Frostburg. He's a second year student there. But my daughter lived in the house with us and her -- she was going to school and working and the father, my grandson's father was a part of his life, but it was a struggle for her to work and go to school so we wanted to keep our family together. So we stayed in the house, but making decisions whether, like, okay, do I make them as a grandmother, do I make them as a mother.
MARTINAnd so we always let my grandson know that, you know, his mother was his mother and I was Nana.
REHMBut who was ultimately in charge?
MARTINOf course, me, Nana.
MARTINNana and my daughter respected that because I was with him more than she was. So she respected that. But when we came to big decisions, I would discuss, you know, everything with her, but I'd already made up in my mind what the answer was already gonna be.
REHMAnd what about money? How much of an issue was money?
MARTINMoney was an issue because I had two younger children that I was raising also.
REHMOf your own.
MARTINOf my own.
MARTINAnd at that time, I wasn't working so we took on the responsibility because we didn't want my daughter to get on social service. We wanted my grandson to grow up in a family where we didn't have to depend on anyone else. So we had to, as my mom would say, cut corners and we had to, you know, cut back on a lot of things, but I realize it was worth it.
REHMNow, to you, Donna Butts, tell me your reactions to both these stories.
BUTTSWell, I think they're absolutely wonderful and they really paint the picture of grandparents and other relatives who are raising children. When Michelle and I first connected, I reached out to her because she would always write about Big Momma and the impact that she had on her life. And we look at Michelle and we say, that's a grand success. That shows that these investments in grandparents raising grandchildren result in tremendous citizens.
REHMNow, to what extent is this phenomenon on the increase? Do more and more grandparents take on those responsibilities?
BUTTSMore and more grandparents and other relatives are taking on the responsibility of raising grandchildren for a variety of reasons. It may be for a short time or it may be such as in Michelle and Molene's case where they may think it's gonna be temporary, but in fact, over 40 percent have the children for more than five years. So what they're facing are much more complex situations than, say, back when George and Martha Washington raised her grandchildren at Mount Vernon.
REHMSo you've got not only, as we talked about with Molene, the question of who's in charge and with Michelle, I know there were financial issues. So you've got the whole range of issues, discipline, who is making the disciplinary statements that are going to stick?
BUTTSThere's such a confusion at times of the roles that they take on because for the grandparents and for the children, there's so much that they're dealing with emotionally, physically, financially, but the financial issue is one that is very real. We recently did a report called the Resounding Resiliency of Grand Families that was commissioned by the city community development and they asked Generations United and CFED to interview low income grandparents to see how they were really faring.
BUTTSAnd what we found is that they are incredibly good money managers. As both Michelle and Molene know, they just don't have enough.
REHMI guess they have to be.
BUTTSYeah, they just don't have enough and that's what we need to think about because those grandparents raising grandchildren save our country more than $4 billion a year.
REHMLinda Waite, you have studied who becomes a grandparent caregiver. What did you find?
WAITEWhat we found in the study that I did is that there are different kinds of grandparent caregivers. Some of them provide babysitting. Maybe they watch the children while the parents work. Some of them live in a house with their grandchildren and those kids' mother, often their daughter and son-in-law. And some of them take on the responsibility by themselves, like Molene's grandmother did. The people who babysit, who provide care, but don't live with grandchildren, tend to be relatively advantaged.
WAITEThey're health is good, on average. They're more likely to be married. They're more likely to be African American and they spend, you know, between 50 hours over the course of a year to much more than that. The people who start living with their grandchildren are more often disadvantaged. Their health is less likely to be good. They have less money on average and what they have to give is a place for their grandchildren to stay, which is a huge gift.
REHMSo having those grandchildren stay with a grandparent is certainly an advantage for those grandchildren, but not necessarily in terms of the health, the wherewithal of the grandparent, her or himself?
WAITEWell, that is certainly been a concern always, that grandparents are putting themselves on the line for their grandchildren and they're suffering for it. So we tested this idea very specifically, using a very large study of older Americans. We had almost 20,000 people that we followed for a number of years and we had information on whether they provided care to their grandchildren, whether they lived with them, whether they lived with them as a sole custodian or whether they shared the house with the child's parents.
WAITEWe looked at health on a number of dimensions, from health behaviors like smoking, drinking, obesity, mental health, mobility limitations and chronic diseases. And what we found -- yeah, what we found is that there is not big -- there's no strong evidence of a big disadvantage in health to grandparents who live with their grandchildren.
REHMI'm glad to hear that. Linda Waite, she's professor in urban sociology at the University of Chicago. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, your emails, your phone calls, stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about a growing phenomenon: grandparents who care for grandchildren for one reason or another. I was glad to hear you say, just before we closed that segment, Linda, that for the most part, these grandparents did not suffer health wise. And it is as though, as you have said, Donna Butts, that parents need to stay healthy. They are motivated to stay healthy and that's what they do.
REHMHere's an email from -- well, it's a comment on Facebook from Barbara. She says, helping my divorced daughter raise two of my three grandchildren, because even with a Master's degree, she cannot afford to live on her own and pay rent, car payment, utilities, food, et cetera. I will continue to work past retirement age so I can help them become financially stable. Those children, she says, are my heart and joy. Isn't that beautiful?
SINGLETARYIt is beautiful.
BUTTSIt's really beautiful.
SINGLETARYAnd, you know, so interesting. Sometimes when you hear those stories, people say, oh, well, she should really be on her own. Or, you know, she's suffering somehow by helping. But I don't think it's sustainable for everybody to have their own home and not, you know, do the things that we consider to be independent. And I think, you know, generations past, multi-generations were in the same household to be able to support each other.
REHMTrue. I remember that.
SINGLETARYAnd so I think we have to get away from this idea that if people come back home -- especially people who bring, you know, grandchildren -- that somehow there's a failure going on.
REHMOr a stigma of some sort.
MARTINBecause, like with my daughter now, she's married. She has three other children. And one of her children has a disability. But we're still there to help her. We put the baby on the bus in the morning. I mean, this is where she would have to pay day care. So we're there to do the things that she can have money to do other things to save. And saving now is so hard. So she could get a chance to save her money. We put the baby on the bus. We get her off the bus. But we're still that support system, even though she's not in our home, we're still there.
REHMBut, Molene, what kind of effects has being this there grandparent had on you: what kind of financial effects, what kind of physical effects, what kind of emotional effects?
MARTINWell, as a grandmother, you sometime get tired. But you know, even in your tiredness, you have to consider your grandchildren. So financially you have to say, well, maybe I want to buy a dress. But if my grandson needs money for school, that's more important than me getting that. And when we do it, I'm blessed. I have my husband that's in the same support system with me. And then we have a family that, you know, I'm from a family of seven sisters and two brothers. And we taught that family is family.
MARTINSo, if your child need, then we all come together and do it.
REHMSo, Linda Waite, not all such families are as fortunate as Molene's, I gather.
WAITENo, that's absolutely true. Some families have -- the grandparents are in poor health themselves. And what we found in the study of who becomes a grandparent caregiver is that the families that take in their grandchildren are more disadvantaged on a lot of levels than the families that provide care out of the home.
WAITEWell, so they're -- have on average lower levels of education. Their own health is somewhat worse. They have somewhat lower levels of income. So, you know, grandparents give to their grandchildren what they can give and what their grandchildren need. And if they're not rich, they can't give a lot of money. But they can give their time.
BUTTSBut it's one of the things that Molene was mentioning, which is that she has this extended family network, which oftentimes helps, whether it's family or friends. And what we found, with extremely low-income grandparents, was they don't necessarily have that network or they don't know how to work it. And so that's one of the things that we think needs to be looked at, is how do we increase those -- that network and that ability to transfer resources and know that it's okay to ask for help. Because that's the other thing, when we talk about stigma, is only 12 percent of grandparents raising grandchildren access TANF, which is a child-only grant.
BUTTSWhile almost 100 percent of grandparents could access that. But there's -- they either don't know about it or there's a stigma attached to accepting the other kinds of outside support and benefits.
SINGLETARYYeah, that's true. My grandmother never took -- and back then it was called Welfare.
SINGLETARYShe absolutely refused to take Welfare. She did take the health care allotment because we all had health issues. I had arthritis. My brother had severe epilepsy. My sister had severe asthma. But she was very proud. And, you know, looking back, I can understand. The Welfare system was quite different. They were much more intrusive to the household. And my grandmother was very proud. But I think the things that Donna and Generations United are doing is that we've got to get the word out that it's okay to ask for help.
SINGLETARYThat, you know, that you need -- that it will help the children. That, you know, pride is not necessarily always a good thing.
REHMHere is an email. And this is so powerful. She says, as a white middle-class grandparent raising a seven-year-old and a nine-month-old, I would like to advocate for any support group educational effort for grand families. I have searched central Pennsylvania for any shred of support to no avail. Is there a national support group that could mentor a grandmother? I have so many friends my age who are in the same situation. They pore over their finances and health issues in light of the new circumstances. Donna Butts.
BUTTSYou know in The Resounding Resiliency of Grand families report, one of the things that we recommended is that people who are running support groups, whether it's a church-based support group, whether it's a support group that was started by the Brookdale Foundation's Relatives as Parents Programs, that we help to train and educate those facilitators so that they know about how to help the grand families more aggressively with their financial planning...
REHMBut are there any national groups?
BUTTSThere are a couple of grassroots grandparent groups...
BUTTS...who are there to help to elevate the voice of grand families. And they're the ones that answer the calls 24 hours a day that come in from grand families. There's also something called a Kinship Navigator Program, which is available in several states. But they need to be in every state. We need to have those resources, because the grandparents don't know where to turn. They don't know what questions to ask when they take in their children unexpectedly.
REHMLinda Waite, is this entire phenomenon on the rise?
WAITEWe think so. Yes. If you think about, we're in an age of mass-incarceration, there are more people in prisons now than there have ever been. And some of the -- many of those are parents. So they're leaving behind, to their parents, the job of raising the children. There's been a huge rise in prescription drug abuse among white, poorly educated Americans. That makes people unable to care for their own children. There are social problems that are causing this to increase.
REHMSo your grandmother, African American, you, an African American, but clearly this is not simply an African-American problem.
SINGLETARYAbsolutely not. Especially since the recession, because so many families were torn apart by the economic turmoil that we went through. But also the disintegration of marriage itself. You know, divorce is contributing to more grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. And we've got to address this across a lot of lines. You know? It's even an incarceration issue. My husband and I are volunteer prisoners and we see these men who've been put away, just warehoused for years, who aren't in their children's lives. And often their parents or the child's parents are helping take care of them.
SINGLETARYBut also just, you know, focusing on marriage, so that we can bring down the divorce rate, so that that group of kids don't end up with their grandparents.
REHMMolene, you're president of Grand families Parent Teacher Association group in Baltimore.
REHMTell us about the group and what it aims to do.
MARTINThank you. We are the Grand families Parent Teacher Student Association. And in our -- it's just like a PTA, but we have parents, students, teachers and the grandparents. And what we want to do, we educate. We do workshops. We teach the grandparents. If they have to go to a IAP meeting for one of their children...
MARTINA IAP. And a lot of grandparents don't know how to go to a meeting or handle a meeting or what question to ask when they go to these meetings. Myself or someone that know about these things will go. Now you have this program where you can go online for to find your children's grades. Well, you know, the children are not going to tell grandma how to use the computer. So we educate them how to pull it up. So we're there to give them the resources that they need to tell them where to go and to inform the students and our parent grand families that there is no question that you cannot ask. If we don't have the answer to your question, we will find it. But don't feel afraid to ask.
REHMWhat do you think, would you say, is the main issue that grandparents have raising grandchildren?
MARTINThey need to be more educated. They don't know about the different resources. They don't know that I could get help for my child to go to college, because no one has educated them. So I think, if we give them the more resources, the more education to let them know that there is a support system there to help them through. I think that's the main thing. And finances.
REHMAnd, Donna, your organization just released a big report on grandparents. And tell us what that report had to say.
BUTTSWell, The Resounding Resiliency of Grand families, a part of what we talked about is the fact that the grandparents are good money managers. They just need more resources. But also, I think one of the really important things is that they defer their dreams in support of their children's dreams.
BUTTSThey really do. And they feel that they have a purpose in doing that. But there are certain things that we need. And a part of what Molene was talking about is that people need information, that we need support groups so that people know they're not alone, but also so they have accurate information. For so long, grandparents thought they couldn't enroll their children in Head Start. And of course they could, but they were told they couldn't. Now, it's a matter of accessing the individual education plan, education consent, medical consent so they can get their children vaccinated. But they don't know that they can do that.
BUTTSSo it's really that access to information. And then knowing it's okay to keep asking and asking and asking. Never accept no.
REHMAll right. I'm going to open the phones. First, to Dory in Annapolis, Md. You're on the air.
DORYHi. My husband and I...
REHMDory, I'm sorry. I can barely hear you.
DORYOh, let me switch phones. I'm so sorry.
REHMDory, are you there. I'm sorry, I'll have to move on. Let's go to Abigail in Raleigh, N.C.
ABIGAILHi, Diane. How are you?
REHMI'm fine. How are you?
ABIGAILI'm good. Thank you and all your guests for being on today. I'm an orphan. My dad died when I was six and my grandmother came to live with us -- my sister and me and my mom. And then my mom got cancer and died when I was 12.
REHMOh, I'm so sorry.
ABIGAILBut, so I'm so thankful. And my grandmother's 98 and doing great and she's an awesome money manager. But I just wanted to bring up, some of our problems growing up, with the age difference, was the generational styles of parenting and also sort of understanding the culture. And also dealing with the grief of her having lost her daughter and me having lost my mother.
ABIGAILAnd that -- and kind of dealing with those emotional problems between the both of us.
ABIGAILSo if your guests could speak to sort of the emotional quality of that inter-generational relationship.
REHMOh, boy. Those are huge, huge problems. Michelle.
SINGLETARYI mean, I joke. I'm really not of my generation because I was raised by my grandmother. I'm a depression-era kind of person. And so my kids are suffering.
REHMEven though you were born way after?
SINGLETARYAnd my children are suffering because they're growing up that way. I totally get what she's talking about. The generate -- there's such a huge issue. And my grandmother was, you know, she used words like hoarding. And, you know, I mean, she -- and, you know, she had...
REHMI still use words like hoarding.
SINGLETARYAnd when I went off to college, you know, she was like, you can't have nobody in your room. And, you know, I mean I was scared the first couple. So there's a lot of emotional issues that don't get addressed, because they're so focused on the finances and things like that. And therapy is not something from their generation. You know, you don't go to see a therapist. That means you're crazy. And so, Dory, I would suggest, you know, I've seen therapist that sure to help deal with the whole abandonment issue.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I think the issue of grief, as she talked about her grandmother's grief losing her child and the child's grief losing her mother, Donna.
BUTTSYou know, there's another kind of grief too, Diane, and that's dreams deferred. It's older adults who have taken good care in their lives, who've planned for retirement, they've planned for what that time in life is going to look like. I always remember the grandmother in Kansas City who I met. She told me that she had bought a condominium. She'd carpeted it in white carpet, got out all the little crystal figures. And then she got a knock on the door in the middle of the night and all of a sudden she had a two and four year old.
BUTTSSo basically she wrapped up the crystal figures, put them in the closet along with her dreams and raised those children. I've never met a grandparent who would say no. Because they know that a child never ages out of a family. They may age out of a system, but they never age out of a family.
REHMBut now, Linda, don't some grandparents have to say no?
WAITEOh, of course. And the ones who have to say no do that because they maybe have a major health problem or they have just inadequate resources. They're much older. They have a disability. But it's almost always that they just can't do it.
REHMBut most of the time, do they try?
WAITEOh, absolutely. And as I said before, grandparents give whatever they have that their grandchildren need. The problem comes when they just don't have.
BUTTSBut it's also, Diane, that's why, when we talk about that network, it's so important. Because even if a grandparent can't take on the primary responsibility, there are very creative ways of building a support system for a child, so that you have aunts, you have extended relatives, you have neighbors, you have a larger community. It's that village to raise a child.
REHMAnd the teachers must be informed. And too often that information maybe doesn't come through as clearly. And I want you to talk about that when we come back. We'll take a short break. We've got lots of callers and we'll work those in as well. Stay with us.
REHMAnd before we take another call, I want to reach out to the grandparent who called earlier, looking for help. Here's an email from Jill, who says tell that woman to try at her senior center. Ours has regular meetings with grandparents as parents. What a great suggestion, really. Okay, let's go to Victoria in Tampa, Florida. You're on the air.
VICTORIAHi Diane, thank you for taking my call.
VICTORIAI just wanted to tell you a little story about myself. I was actually raised by my grandmother, but she wasn't actually my grandmother by blood. I didn't know any of my family, except for my mother, and until my brother was born, when I was about nine, I didn't know anyone else besides my mother. My grandmother was actually with her husband and another neighborhood woman. She was my babysitter. A lot of the kids in the neighborhood, they had like a little partnership. They babysat a lot of the kids.
VICTORIAAnd my mom was just, let's say, in a bad position in her life at the time. She was very young, about 21, when I was three, and basically this woman became my grandmother. She took me -- she agreed with my mother that she would raise me when she moved away from Tallahassee, they moved back to Jacksonville, and she said I'll raise Tory until you change your ways, and if you want to come and get her whenever you're ready, then that's fine.
VICTORIAAnd about six years later, my mom got pregnant with my brother and did decide to come back and get me, but I have an entire family because of this woman. I have four -- or three aunts and an uncle who passed, many cousins, baby cousins. Unfortunately my grandfather passed when I was 10, and my grandmother passed this last September. But I can safely say that I would not be where I am today without her.
REHMWell, that really is an incredible story. I wonder how often that happens that a non-relative steps in, Linda Waite, where there is no parent or grandparent available. Do we have any stats on that?
WAITENot really, Diane. If -- in the major national surveys that I use, if you say a child is your child and describe it in the interview, that child is your child, even if it it's...
REHMOh, I see. But here's an email from Judy, who says, when I was a legal aid attorney, North Carolina allowed only parents or legal custodians to register children for school. As a result, our office did many school custody cases. It was a terrible problem for those who couldn't qualify for legal aid or afford to hire an attorney. Is this a problem in other states, Donna?
BUTTSIt definitely is a problem in other states, as well, Diane. One is that one of the things that grandparents really need is access to affordable legal care because many grandparents spend down all of their resources either trying to get a legal relationship with the child or trying to find out what their rights and opportunities are. So that's huge. But when it comes to medical and educational consent, there has been a movement throughout states, and there's a number of states that now have educational consent laws but a number that don't.
BUTTSAnd we -- I remember working with the state of Illinois, for example, and they had a segment in their law that said that grandparents could enroll their children in schools, but the school districts were saying that they couldn't. And so what the state did was that the advocates in the state basically just made a copy of that page, gave it to every grandmother, and they took it to school.
REHMWow, and that's how it was accomplished. So many -- do you recall your grandmother having any legal barriers to overcome, Michelle?
SINGLETARYYeah, you know, my grandmother grew up in a time, she was from the South, and so she wanted to stay as far away as possible from any official court or anything like that. I mean, you know, her parents -- her grandparents were slaves. So she was really scared of authority. And so fortunately, because my father and mother kind of just disappeared, she was able to get guardianship. That's sort of how she got the authority to watch over us.
SINGLETARYBut after that, she never went back for anything, and if she ever had any issue with school, she'd march up in there. My grandmother was a force of nature. And they didn't have any problem when she came in the door.
REHMAren't you lucky, yeah, exactly, aren't you lucky.
SINGLETARYYeah, I inherited that from her. So she didn't have any problems. She'd come in there, and you're going to listen to Marie Kelly when she says she's got something to do with her grandchildren.
REHMI love it. All right, let's go to Jasper, Illinois. Chuck, sorry, Alabama, Chuck, you're on the air.
CHUCKYes, you are discussing a subject that is near and dear to my heart.
CHUCKBecause my wife and I are raising two grandchildren, and they both have health issues. My granddaughter is 15, and three years ago, she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetic, severe issues. She was hospitalized for five days. My grandson was born with a meconium ileus, which is a rupture in his intestines. He's got cystic fibrosis, and he has had seven intestinal surgeries, seven sinus surgeries. He is on all kind of medication.
CHUCKSo I know how hard it is being just a little older.
REHMBoth, you sure do, yeah, and Chuck, what about the parents? Can you tell us anything about them?
CHUCKWell, without trying to get into too much because it's...
CHUCKYou know, it stays a sore spot. We had a daughter that died in a car wreck. And her sister was two years older than her, and she's still alive, but it is her children. And, you know, some people just can't deal with the death of a sibling or someone that they're close to, well, and she made a lot of bad choices at that time in her life. And when he was born, he had substances in his blood, which DHR contacted us when he was two weeks old, you know, because of the health problems.
CHUCKWe didn't know anything that was going on. We just knew that he had ruptured intestines, but other than that, nobody wanted to tell us, the doctors or nurses couldn't tell us, and so DHR called and basically said, you know, if you don't take them, they're going into the foster care system.
SINGLETARYThat often happens. I mean, that's why my grandmother, they said we're going to put them in foster care. And there were relatives who wanted to take one or two of us, but five, that's a lot.
REHMThat's a lot.
SINGLETARYAnd so my grandmother was, like, well, you're not splitting them up. So she took us all in so that we, A, wouldn't be in foster care and wouldn't be split up. And I feel for him, and the one other thing I will say is that just make sure that you are taking care of yourself, and you are getting the help because if you spend down and out, then you will have to have someone take care of you.
SINGLETARYAnd so for Chuck and all those grandparents, you know, just please do what you can do to get financial help to make sure that you can stretch what you have or figure out other ways to make sure that you are not then in a caregiving situation where you have to receive care because you don't have the funds.
REHMAnd here's an email from Jennifer, otherwise known as Nana. She says, I'm a retired, single professional raising my granddaughter. I have a pension that provides adequately for us, but the isolation and lack of support for raising a young child across generations is difficult. My granddaughter's parents are geographically distant. Friends my age are at a different stage in life and generally enjoying their leisure years. Parents of my granddaughter's friends are of a different generation. I feel blessed to have her but struggle with personal and social issues, Donna.
BUTTSIt's so true. We hear from grandparents who can't go see a movie anymore, or their friends talk about the cruise that they're going on. One grandmother said to me, my friends talk about the cruises they're going on, and I say I have my cruise. I take my grandson cruising to football games, I take him cruising to golf games, I take him everywhere cruising.
REHMBut that's a very uplifting, upbeat, optimistic attitude. Not everybody has that.
BUTTSYou're so right, and what this grandmother did, which I respect so much, was that she went around and started grandparent support groups...
BUTTSBecause she knew that she did have that attitude, and she knew that she had that resilience and that strength. So she started a whole network of support groups in her state. And I just really encourage people, take advantage of the support groups because you're not alone.
MARTINAnd I understand this because I'm also raising four of my great-nieces.
REHMOh my goodness.
MARTINAnd I'm the oldest parent at school. And they say to my niece all the time, say why is it that Nana is always with us, you know, and Nana is old. But then we find things to do, and I'm finding out that my nieces will do things I like, and I do things they like with their friends.
REHMBut when do you have time to be with your own friends, your own people to share your concerns with?
MARTINWell, that's what we have, the Grand families. We all meet. We meet at least four times a year.
MARTINWe go out for Christmas, Thanksgiving. We set up times where we meet. And I may have a date with my husband or my sisters for birthdays. We all get together and celebrate -- so my family makes sure that I'm taken care of so I can be good for my grandchildren and my nieces.
REHMBoy is that important.
SINGLETARYAnd we can't forget the grandchildren, either. They need support, as well, because they're -- think about it, wherever they are, they're a generation behind their peers. So they're getting raised from a different generation. So I was not like my peers. I didn't even want to do the things that they wanted to do because that's not how I was trained.
SINGLETARYYou know, I didn't go to dances. I couldn't do the things that they do. I couldn't even listen to certain music because my grandmother was, like, that's the devil's music. You know, even playing cards, you know, Spades was like oh my lord, you know, you're going to...
SINGLETARYYeah, oh yeah, and so I looked like a crazy person. And I needed some bonding. I needed other folks, other kids my age who could identify with the fact that I was not of their generation.
REHMBut didn't those peers then somehow affect you in ways that you could begin to understand there was a world outside your grandmother's house?
SINGLETARYNo. My siblings, yes, but I, you know, there's always that grandchild that just sort of takes on the character of the grandmother. And I was like a little Big Mama. So I was the one lecturing the folks. I mean, I cannot tell this on public -- I'm in college, and, you know, they do some things in college they're not supposed to. And, you know, they were smoking some stuff that you're not supposed to, and I walk in the room, and I'm, like, I'm going to tell, y'all are not supposed to be doing this. They put me out of the room and put me on the dorm floor.
SINGLETARYSo I was just preaching to them like I was my grandmother.
MARTINSee, so you're like my youngest. You're like the 14-year-old. She will be telling the older three, you shouldn't do this, you -- and she's a homebody, and the other ones always like to go. So there's always, I believe, one in that group that takes on the characteristics of their Nana or their Auntie.
REHMLet's take a call in Raleigh, North Carolina. Robert, you're on the air.
ROBERTHello, how are you today?
SINGLETARYFine, thank you, go right ahead, sir.
ROBERTI have a little bit of the opposite problem. I'm a single father raising my two children, and the one grandparent that I still have is not committed or making herself fully available to help with the raising of the children, and one of the reasons why, that I hear from her, is that the children are too much to take care of. And from other people, aunts, uncles, teachers, babysitters, that's not what I hear, nor do I think that the children are misbehaved. And I'm wondering what your guests have to say about that and how they're dealing with that situation.
REHMAny advice, Donna?
BUTTSI think one thing that's important about families is that everyone is unique, and we need to take that under consideration in terms of what kinds of supports, what kinds of services, what people need.
BUTTSAnd some grandparents aren't as engaged.
REHMLinda, can you comment?
WAITEI absolutely can. Of all the people in our major survey who had grandchildren, about 25 percent provided an hour of care to them any time in the last two years. So 75 percent of grandparents don't live with their grandchildren and don't do any babysitting or less than 50 hours a year.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. So the question on the other end of this discussion is how to get grandparents more involved, Donna.
BUTTSWell, there are a number of ways that grandparents can be involved, but there are times where they simply aren't. And so I think what's really important then is you find older adults who care where they are. It doesn't have to be a biological grandparent, but there are older adults who are crying to be connected to a younger generation, to be able to help support a family. So find those, whether it's through your community center, your faith, your temple, your church, whether it's through the senior center, whether it's through a local volunteer program, but find those older adults who can be the grandma and the grandpa that your children need.
SINGLETARYYeah, and I would caution him to make sure he's not communicating to the children that rejection from the grandmother. So just meet her where she is. If it's just once a year, that's all she can take, that's okay. And then do what Donna says, find something else. I have, you know, when I was sick and in the hospital, one of the physical therapists sort of adopted me, and she became my kind of mother, surrogate mother.
SINGLETARYAnd then she became a surrogate grandmother to my children because my grandmother died before they could see her because she was so old when she took me. And so she -- they call her grandma. And she's in Florida. She's listening, Grandma Lois. And so she's Grandma Lois. And so I didn't -- I never communicated to my children that they had grandparents who didn't want to be involved in their lives. We just say, well, when grandparents, they came -- they can't come, but Grandma Lois can come.
SINGLETARYAnd she came to everything. She is not biologically related to me at all, and she is at every single major event in their lives.
REHMIsn't that wonderful? Isn't that wonderful?
SINGLETARYSo that dad has to be careful. Just don't -- you don't want to foster that negativity because they'll grow up with some issues.
REHMThey'll feel it.
SINGLETARYThey'll feel it. So just don't communicate that, and find some other grandma. I'll tell you, there are a lot -- and grandpas who would be -- who would be more than happy to adopt those kids.
REHMLots of good advice here from Michelle Singletary, she's syndicated columnist of "The Color of Money" for the Washington Post, Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, Molene Martin, president of Grand families Parent Teacher Student Association in Baltimore, and from the studios of WBEZ, Linda Waite, professor of urban sociology at the University of Chicago. Thank you all for a very uplifting and informative program.
WAITEIt's been my pleasure.
BUTTSThank you, Diane, it's wonderful.
REHMOur pleasure. Thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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