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How to Raise Kids…Again

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: My wife and I are in our mid-60s and own a small business.  We’ve worked hard all of our lives so we could retire and do what we wanted to do.  We now have full custody of our two grandchildren, 7 and 10 whom we love.  We are committed to provide the best life for them.

The tough part is managing our energy, time, money and the business — and giving up plans we had for our future.  How can we deal with this in the best way?        

Answer: We admire and respect you for assuming such a profound responsibility. Clearly family has emerged as a single priority.  Your situation is challenging and part of an increasing trend nationally.

According to a 2002 U.S. Census, California has the largest population of grandparents caring for grandchildren of any state in the nation.  More than 626,000 children in the state are living in a grandparent-headed household – that is 6.8 percent of all children under 18 years in California.  And almost 300,000 grandparents are taking care of these youths.

You may ask why so many?

Generations United, a national membership organization that promotes intergenerational programs and policies, found parental abuse of drugs and alcohol, child abuse, teenage pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, unemployment, divorce, mental health problems, family violence, poverty and incarceration as reasons.  Drugs and alcohol are considered major contributors.Unfortunately, few of these causes are diminishing.

What do we know about caregiving grandparents?  The U.S. Census Bureau News reports:

  • 6.1 million grandparents in the U.S. have grandchildren 18 and younger living with them.
  • 2.5 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren’s basic needs.
  • 1.4 million grandparents are in the labor force and also are responsible for the basic needs of their grandchildren.
  • 918,000 grandparents have been caring for their grandchildren for at least the past five years.
  • 477,000 grandparents have income below the poverty level and also are caring for their grandchildren.

Despite potential obstacles, grandchildren raised by grandparents most often do well.

Many notables have been raised by grandparents.  Among them are former President Bill Clinton, talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, guitarist Eric Clapton and actor Jack Nicholson.  And actor George Kennedy, actor, was 75 when he was raising his 5-year old granddaughter.

Now, to the problems often facing these unsung heroes.  Meredith Minkler, a professor at the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley, and Kathleen M. Roe, Professor with the Department of Health Science at San Jose State University, identified several problems facing caregiving grandparents:

Health: Clinicians have observed an increase in depression, insomnia, hypertension, and back and stomach problems.  Women often minimize their health problems to make sure they are perceived as being up to the task. (Possible solutions:  Visit your doctor and get a check-up, exercise, eat healthy foods, and consider stress-relief activities such as walking with a friend, yoga and meditation.)

Finances: Retired or non-working grandparents often have to stretch their budgets to cover added costs.  Some report spending their life savings, selling the car, giving up luxuries and making other sacrifices. (Possible solutions:  Be aware of government financial benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.)

Social isolation:
Some grandparents report feeling socially isolated.  They may have less time to spend with family and friends and less time to devote to valued organizations.  (Possible solutions:  Join a support group, schedule time to be with friends, attend your church or synagogue, or participate in a book or knitting or other group of interest.)

Grandparents also report about the joys and extraordinary moments they experience. A grandfather raising a young grandson was quoted in the AARP magazine:  “There is nothing on this planet that compares to those moments when he climbs into my lap and wraps his little arms around me and says, ‘I love you daddy.’”

Others report that their lives have added purpose and meaning.  Many find great pleasure in watching their grandchildren flourish and feel genuinely blessed.

Although grandparents raising grandchildren experience many rewards, their challenges and difficulties should not be underestimated.

Help is available. Consider a support group at the Carson Family Resource Center, 310- 513-8070.  Use the Internet. For a comprehensive list of resources, go to; and AARP’s Grandparent Information Center at

Finally, here are two books that might be helpful:  “Raising our Children’s Children” (Fairview Press, 1997) by Deborah Doucette-Dudman, and “To Grandma’s House We Stay” (Studio 4 Productions, 2006) by Sally Houtman.

We wish you and your wife the minimum of stress and the most joy from this important family commitment.  Try to think of your retirement plans as being postponed rather than eliminated.  Our community thanks you for all that you do for the children.

Copyright 2010 Helen Dennis. All Rights Reserved

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