The number of grandparents residing in the United States it is expected to rise from 65 million in 2011 to 80 million in 2020. During September, we set aside time to recognize the vital role that grandparents serve as patriarchs and matriarchs, living historians, and supportive cornerstones of their families. It is also a time when we call attention to another, growing role grandparents are assuming; the responsibility of raising their grandchildren.
Traditionally, retirement is a time of life when seniors enjoy the fruits of their labor, both at work and in the home. But for many grandparents today, the need for family support opens a new chapter, one that often arises unexpectedly; the role of heading a multigenerational household.
Wikipedia reports that grandparents in the U.S. are increasingly responsible for child care and support. According to the Huffington post, “The research, conducted by US 2010, a research project on changes in American society – funded by Brown University and the Russell Sage Foundation – corroborates a recent study by the Pew Research Center that showed, in 2011, 7.7 million U.S. children – one in 10 – were living in the same household as one of their grandparents. In most cases, that meant living in their grandparent’s home.” In 2012, 30% of children under five with working mothers were cared for on a regular basis by a grandparent.
According to Grandparents Raising Grandchildren of Brevard County, Florida, within Brevard County, grandparents are raising 6,324 and family relatives are raising another 1,434 of Brevard’s children. That means 7,758 or over 13% of Brevard County’s children are being raised by someone other than their parents. Disturbingly, according to Amy Goyer, AARP’s expert on multigenerational and family issues, “nearly 20% of U.S. grandparents with grandchildren in the house are living below the poverty line.”
Becoming a grandparent is a time in life that typically brings great joy. But when their own children are confronted with challenges, ranging from mental health conditions to domestic violence and substance abuse, the role of being a grandparent often shifts from a traditional role to that of caregiver. This can be a complex and challenging time in life for grandparents who have to modify the expectations they had envisioned for retirement to the reality of the situation in which they are placed. Being confronted with the need to care for their grandchildren, due to a parent’s involvement with the child welfare system, is often complicated further by the care and concern a grandparent has for their own adult child’s struggles.
Brevard County is fortunate to have a champion in Mary Ann Sterling who leads Brevard’s chapter of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Mary Ann is a tireless advocate for the many grandparents raising their grandchildren in our community. She serves as a conduit and mentor to others like her who have assumed a parental role. She spends countless hours helping grandparents navigate a complex system, steers them towards resources that can help them manage their households, and offers support to those overwhelmed by the task of raising another generation of children at a time when they may be less able physically, financially and emotionally to do so.
On behalf of Brevard’s children and families I would like to thank all the grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren in our community. We know you have accepted a lot in life for which you did not prepare but you strive every day to ensure your family will make it through a difficult time and that your grandchildren can look forward to bright futures!