What Not to Say to Grandparents Raising Their Grandchildren

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot/freedigitalphotos.net

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. James 3:5

Odds are you know a grandparent involved in the raising of their grandchildren. Over 13 million children in the US are in households with grandparents. In many of these homes, at least one of the parents resides, but today, there are roughly 2.5 million grandparents taking on the sole care of their grandchildren.

My husband and I are one of these statistics. For the last two years, two of our grandchildren, Victoria (10) and Amari (6), have lived with us. We are young for grandparents, both of us in our 50s, but this was not the plan. When we married, I had two children and he had three. Since we married with children already in the mix, we looked forward to the empty nest years. When the house emptied out, we embraced the time for just the two of us. It lasted such a short time, though.

Please do not misunderstand me. I love my grandchildren, and I am glad we are able to care for them. But let’s face it, this wasn’t what we planned on doing at this point in our lives.

People mean well. They see grandparents raising grandchildren, and they try to say something positive about it, but I’ve heard some doozies over the last two years. With that in mind, I thought I would share some of the things you should NOT say to grandparents raising their grandchildren.

  • You’re doing the right thing.  More people say this to me than any other statement. I realize people mean well, but I find this statement patronizing. Did I choose to raise my grandchildren because it was the wrong thing? Or maybe you think I’m having second thoughts, and you’re trying to talk me out of it? Of course, I’m doing the right thing. I don’t need you to remind me.
  • Grandchildren make you feel young again. Alright, let’s expose the myth in this statement. Grandchildren exhaust you. You are not in your twenties or thirties anymore. Interrupted nights of sleep are harder to bounce back from. Your body doesn’t fight off illness as well as it did when you were younger. I once heard someone restate this myth in a more accurate way:  “Grandchildren make you feel young again…for about thirty minutes. Then you feel really old.”  If you have grandchildren, and you’re not raising them, sure it’s fun to spend time with them. I relished in the times I spent with my grandkids when I was just the grandmother, not the parent. It’s non-stop, now. It doesn’t end. I can’t hand them back at the end of the day.
  • I’m sure you have more patience with them then when you raised your own kids. Not necessarily. Look at the paragraph above. The “no rules at my house grandma” can’t live at my house because this is 24/7. They live here. I push them to do their homework, eat their vegetables, go to bed, get up and get ready for school, take a bath, brush their teeth, etc. I’m older and tired. In my specific case, I’m juggling all of this plus running my business. At least when I was a single mom, I came home from my job at the end of the day and didn’t think about it. That’s not so easy when your office is in your home.
  • Can’t someone else raise them? Who? Foster care? When the social worker contacted me she assured me I didn’t want them in the foster system. I know there are good foster parents out there, but these are my flesh and blood. My grandchildren. I shouldn’t have to raise them, but I will do so before I let a stranger take on that responsibility.
  • What’s going on with their parents? If you are close enough to me to know the answer to this, then you won’t have to ask. If you have to ask, it’s none of your business. And PLEASE don’t ask in front of the grandchildren! Seriously. Just don’t. Also, please don’t ask about the missing parents every single time you see the grandparent. Believe it or not, they don’t want to dwell on that. If they feel like talking, they will.
  • I can’t believe your son/daughter is so irresponsible. Grandparents already suffer the pain of the messed up lives of their child. They don’t need you to cast judgement on their adult children. In so doing, you cast judgement on the grandparent, too.
  • Aren’t you enabling your son/daughter’s behavior by raising the children? Of all the things people have said to me, this one shocked me the most. It’s not like I whisked in and grabbed up my grandchildren at the slightest sign of poor parenting. This was not done on a whim. The decision to raise your grandchildren is a heartbreaking one to make. You do it for the safety of the grandchildren. They should not have to pay any more than they already have for the mistakes of their parents.

After reading over these statements, you may be wondering what you should say to the grandparent raising their grandchildren. Here are some welcome comments I’ve received:

  • How are you doing?
  • Can I help?
  • Why don’t you let me take the kids for the day?
  • Are you getting enough rest?

Even this is better because it expresses empathy:  I don’t know how you do it. I had mine for just a day and it took me two days to recover.

If you’ve said any of the “don’t say” statements in the past, don’t beat yourself up. There’s a reason I felt this post was necessary. I’ve heard most of them many times over. So, now you know.

 

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The Downward Spiral of a Prodigal

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.  So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. Luke 15:13-15

I could write several posts tracking the downward spiral of my prodigal daughter’s life, but instead I’m going to hit the highlights (lowlights?) in this one post. As I shared in The Seeds of the Prodigal, Part 2, she moved out at eighteen and her life path turned dark. There were times of light and happiness, but they aren’t what sticks with me.

Over the last twenty years, her life followed this trajectory:

Living in houses with nine or ten other “homeless” people. My child, who fussed at her grandparents for smoking, reeked of her friends’ cigarette smoke. Before long, she was smoking, too. Who knows what else she was partaking in.

Working as a waitress and spending the ready cash at the end of each shift on partying. This is the downside of tips–money at hand every single night.

Living on the street and sleeping in her car.

Choosing to have a homosexual relationship and moving in with the girl. I’m pretty sure this was a cry for attention. Once she broke up with her girlfriend, she returned to heterosexual relationships.

Obtaining a decent job with a drugstore chain working as a pharmaceutical tech. At this point, I had hope. Except for her choice of companions, she seemed on track and showed a great deal of responsibility on the job. Then, an offer for a position as assistant manager of another drugstore chain came along, and, against our advice, she took it. She and the manager were not a good match, and soon, she was out of a job because friends who spent the night at her apartment stole the keys to the store.

Not long after this, she broke up with her girlfriend. This is when she began using heroin recreationally. She stole my debit card and withdrew a large sum from our savings. When confronted, she admitted she needed help, she was now addicted. The most disturbing part was her confession that she kept buying the drugs because the dealer was a cute guy. She used drugs as an excuse to see him.

We asked law enforcement to take her to the hospital, hoping she could get help. The hospital lined her up for a rehab program, but before the hospital sent her to the rehab center, she convinced the doctors that she could get help on her own and THEY. LET. HER. GO. I begged the doctor to keep her in the program, but he refused. (This one still shocks me.)

Thus began her journeys in and out of jail for drug charges. She didn’t clean up. She made terrible decisions on relationships. She broke into our house and stole my favorite jewelry. She skipped parole meetings. 

In 2006, it caught up with her. Her parole officer picked her up for violating parole. She tested positive for drugs. She tested positive for pregnancy and spent the majority of that pregnancy in jail. When her court date arrived, the judge released her to our care under house arrest. Luckily for our unborn granddaughter, the pregnancy was not advanced enough to endanger the fetus. She started working, went to outpatient rehab, and got her life straightened out.

To this day, she says her daughter saved her life. With a new purpose in life, she found herself and although we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, she was on a better path. She still made poor relationship choices and had another baby, our grandson.

Her trek on a brighter path lasted several years, with a few slips here and there. Then it all fell apart two years ago.

So, now we are raising her children.

In the story of the prodigal son, the prodigal comes to his senses and return to his father’s home. My daughter has done this a few times. I understand that drug addicts can clean up their lives and stay clean for several years then fall back into the life of addiction. We’ve never given up on her, but each time, it’s a little harder to trust her.

I will never give up hope. As long as she’s alive, there is hope. We have an awesome God, and His salvation and grace are still available to her. I pray she turns to it before she loses her life.

Parenting: Looking For the Prodigal Seeds

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It’s been a while since I blogged about my personal story. In some ways, I’ve been avoiding it because I’ve reached a point in the story where things began to fall apart for my younger daughter. I’ve blogged about her teen pregnancy, and I’ve posted several blogs about the prodigal, hoping to discover wisdom for myself as I share the current situation.

I haven’t talked about the years between the teen pregnancy and her current situation.  She’s almost 37 years old, so that pregnancy was some time ago.

So, what happened?

I can’t point to one thing. It’s a series of events and choices.

From the time she was three, she started doting on younger kids. She was great with them. You could see she adored children. I watched and realized that some day she would be a wonderful mother. But events changed that part of her. After she gave up her son for adoption, her interest in younger children evaporated. I’m not surprised by that, but I am saddened by it.

Instead, she focused on her studies, on activities with church and the school chorus and band, and on spending time with friends. I recall one Friday night, she and her friends showed up at our house shortly before her curfew, seeking shelter from a bad storm. I suggested the girls call their parents to let them know they were safe and at our home. Their response shocked me: they didn’t have a curfew, and their parents wouldn’t worry. Only one girl made a phone call.

What!?

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. Proverbs 22:15

My children always had a curfew. I expected them to let me know where they were and who they were with. These 16-year-old girls didn’t have any boundaries. As I dug deeper into the situation, I discovered that most of my daughters’ classmates did not have rules about where they were or when they came home.

At the time, my daughter expressed thanks that we cared enough to know she was safe. It wasn’t long before she pushed for the same freedoms her friends had, though.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Ephesians 6:1-3

As our children grow older, the choices made for them become a two-way street. We eventually lose control over what they are doing. The teen years is not the time to lose that control, but that’s what happened with her friends. Either the parents wanted to be “friends” with their children or chose to not fight with their kids in order to enforce rules.

I stuck to my rules, but that’s when things began to fall apart.