Ah, yes—the pitter-patter of little feet around the house. Then they grow up, move out, and start a family of their own with grandkids for grandparents to enjoy and spoil before handing them back to their parents.
That’s the ideal world concept abruptly interrupted by real world reality as more and more grandparents assume the responsibility of raising another generation—the children of their children.
“The number of children living in a grandparent’s home has increased significantly over the past decade,” reports AARP magazine. “As increasing numbers of grandchildren rely on grandparents for the security of a home, their grandparents are taking on more of the responsibility for raising them in a tough economy,” writes author Amy Goyer. “For these grandparents, raising another family wasn’t part of the plan. But they step up to the plate when their loved ones need them.”
U.S. Census Bureau data from 2010 showed 4.9 million children under the age of 18 living with grandparent-headed households (up from 4.5 million in 2000). Other children were living in households headed by relatives such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and elder siblings who also stepped up to support children in need.
While 51 percent of grandparents with grandkids living with them are white, all ethnic and socio-economic groups have been affected by the so-called “Granny Nanny Phenomenon.”
Focus group research this summer by Native American Professional Parent Resources, Inc., a nonprofit based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found the issue of grandparents having to raise another generation was one of the top problems on the reservations and in the pueblos over their four county coverage area.
“A disproportionately large number of the native households we work with have a grandparent functioning as a primary caretaker,” says NAPPR Tribal Home Visiting Project Director Maria Brock, Laguna Pueblo/Santa Clara Pueblo. “We want them to know they’re not alone and that programs and services are available to help. They shouldn’t wait until things reach crisis proportion. Caregiver burnout is a well-known problem, but when caregivers do better, kids do better too. It’s like the advice airlines give adult passengers traveling with small children—put your own oxygen mask on first before attempting to attend to the child’s needs.”
Education is frequently one of the first steps in finding solutions for known problems and the NAPPR Tribal Home Visiting Project took that first step on October 17 with a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Forum held in Albuquerque.
“We filled the room,” says forum coordinator Tyanne Benallie, Navajo/Dine. “This dialogue needed to get started and I’m pleased we brought the conversation into the community to help an underserved and untargeted population. We continued to hear that there were not enough support systems to help grandparents take care of themselves while trying to be a parent for the second or third time around. The forum gave a chance for speakers from the National Indian Council on Aging to let the audience know of local, state, and national resources available to help them.
“From what I observed, there is no one-size-fits-all-definition of a grandparent. Our attendees included a young [under 40 years old] primary caretaker who showed up with a 5-year-old granddaughter. She is now the child’s mom after her own daughter passed away in a car accident and the job fell to her.”
Other forum participants fit the more traditional grandparent role, in their 50s, 60s, and 70s trying to handle confused and defiant youngsters while coping with financial, legal, emotional, and educational needs. “One elder told us it was the technical challenges that were getting to her,” Benallie says. “She knew how to cook and love, but didn’t know how to help a child with homework issues and needed some tutoring of her own before she could help the youngster.”
NAPPR is set up to serve New Mexico Native American children through tribal home visitations, early Head Start programs, early intervention efforts, and dental support. “We serve several hundred families with children from prenatal through age 3 to promote optimal child development,” says Brock. “Research has shown that the foundations we lay from birth to age 5 have significant impacts on our remaining life and helping to educate, empower, and support strong and healthy Native American children and families with culturally- and linguistically-relevant services is why we’re here.
“If we can help grandparents to successfully raise another generation, it bodes well for good outcomes for moms, dads, grandparents, and babies alike.”