Grandparents by the Millions Have to Do it all Over Again

Typically, most parents with grown children fervently hope (and oft times pray) for grandchildren – so much so, that prospective grandparents sometimes pressure their own offspring to bear a little darling or three. But given the present situation in which grandparents are stuck with childrearing a second time around, the adage “Be careful what you wish for,” is worth heeding.

            According to the 2010 US Census, about 7 million grandparents have grandchildren younger than 18 living with them.  Of the 7 million:

  • 2.7 million grandparents are responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under age 18;
  • 580,000 grandparents who are responsible for grandchildren under age 18, have incomes below poverty level; 2.2 million have incomes just at or above poverty level.;
  • 1.9 million married (or separated) grandparents care for their grandchildren
  • 670,000 grandparents who are caregivers for their grandchildren have a disability

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy

Millions of grandparents provide a home that saves their grandchildren’s lives both emotionally and physically. It’s a good thing these kinfolk are involved and willing to spread their love. However, the price they pay is a big one. They are not always prepared for their new role. They must frequently make the shift from grandma and grandpa to mom and dad, which isn’t natural or easy. Usually they have to deal with the emotional and health issues that accompany their grandchild, not to mention learning to navigate the educational, legal, social and health care systems.  It’s no wonder that a grandparent who rears his or her grandkid experiences more symptoms of depression than grandparents who are in the traditional role of enjoying their grandchildren sans raising them.

Besides the financial burdens of being a caregiver for grandchildren, grandparent marriages can suffer due to the jolt of a suddenly changed lifestyle.  In her article, “Kinship care and marriage: Raising grandchildren can create marriage difficulties!” Beth Q. Beck, former director of the Children’s Service Society of Utah, lists plenty of reasons for disagreement in kinship care marriages. Two big ones are:

  • Differences over whether grandma and grandpa agree that kinship care must be provided at all;
  • Nourishing the marriage falls by the wayside because the grandchildren require so much time and energy.

Ms. Beck describes a recent study at the University of Chicago, in which 12 of the 39 grandmothers who participated reported that the negative impact of raising grandchildren on their marriage was significant. Only three said that caring for their grandchildren strengthened their relationships with their husbands.

In an interview with a New Jersey social worker, Fox Business columnist Casey Dowd tried to shed more light on the increase in “grandfamilies” over the last decade. Social worker Janis Marler told Dowd that according to 2010 Census findings, a philosophical shift in the child welfare system has added value to placing children with relatives rather than in foster homes. A 2008 law signed by President Bush, encouraged this change. The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act mandates that child protective service agencies provide notice to grandparents and relatives within 30 days of a child’s removal from parental custody.

So, dear grandparents, beware of what you wish for!  Think about the possible consequences of pressuring your progeny to create more humans when we already have Enough of Us. The ultimate burden may well fall on your shoulders.


  1. I used to think that not having grandchildren was the price of a happy childfree life, but now I am exceedingly thankful I won’t have grandchildren and not just for the reasons you mention. I do know a lot of people helping raise their grandchildren and some who don’t get the time of day from theirs (and not for any flaws of their own). I’m happy for those who have the traditional happy relationships but I do not envry them at all.

    I have mixed feelings about allowing grandparents to take children in when they raised the “parents” who did the job so poorly that the foster care system had to intervene. Some will likely do OKAY the second time around but how many will do just as bad a job as they did on these grandkids of theirs’ parents.

    • Thank you for your astute comment. Yes. This is an issue – having grandparents who might have raised dysfunctional children of their own now raising their grandchildren. It still might be a better option than children going into the foster care system which also has many and varied disadvantages.

  2. They don’t demand a response so your ex can respond if they want, but they won’t feel pressured to do so.

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