According to data from the U.S. Census, nearly 2.5 million grandparents in this country are raising their grandchildren as the primary caregivers. Even more grandparents are living with and taking at least partial responsibility for the raising of their grandchildren. Having grandchildren is a joy for most people; to see the next generation and to be able to spend time with the youngsters is largely rewarding.
However, most grandparents had no plans to raise children at their age. The job is a difficult one, and grandparents are suffering as a result. Numerous studies have shown that grandparents are likely to struggle with depression when taking on primary caregiving duties. With support, though, these seniors can raise the children they love, and take care of themselves.
Grandparents as Parents
There are many reasons a grandparent may step in and raise a grandchild, but ultimately it comes down to the parents. Either the parents of the child are incapable of caring for him or her, or they are completely out of the picture. The number of grandparents taking on this responsibility has been on the rise over the last few decades. The statistics from the Census show that these grandparent-headed families are more likely to be living in poverty, headed by grandmothers alone, and to be African American.
There are many challenges for a grandparent in this situation. Being a primary caregiver is like being a full-time mother or father all over again. Finances are often limited, as grandparents do not always plan for being parents again. They are also often limited when it comes to energy and physical strength. Many grandparents may be facing their own health issues while trying to raise children. If the parents are still around, they may pose a challenge as well: showing up unannounced or suing to get custody back, for instance.
Grandparents and Depression
Because more and more grandparents are faced with the task of raising their grandchildren, a number of academic studies have focused on them and their well-being. One such study from researchers at the Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California investigated symptoms of depression in grandparent caregivers. They found that there were significant depressive symptoms among grandparents who had just begun caregiving duties. They also found more depression among grandparents who were acting as caregivers while maintaining other responsibilities, such as work or volunteer positions.
Another study focused only on grandmothers acting as caregivers. The researchers from Case Western Reserve University surveyed grandmothers over the course of six and a half years. They compared those taking on full-time caregiving to those with access to their grandchildren, but not acting as caregivers. The grandmothers came from urban, suburban and rural households. The researchers found that the primary caregivers had far more symptoms of depression and stress than the other grandmothers in the study. The results were surprising in that the symptoms persisted over the long-term. This means that grandmothers are not getting the support they need and that time alone does not help them adapt and cope better.
The grandmothers surveyed in the long-term study were struggling, but they also expressed a willingness to take any help offered. Caregiving grandparents clearly need support to raise their grandchildren, and are willing to receive it, but where do they turn? Researchers are working to develop more resources that support grandparents, but there are organizations that provide help and advice now. The federal government lists such sources of information and assistance
Grandparents who are doing their best to raise their grandchildren can benefit from the resources available to them and should reach out to get that help. Organizations dedicated to supporting caregiving grandparents can help in a variety of ways. They can provide emotional support, access to other grandparents in the same situation, and educational opportunities to help grandparents learn more about how to successfully raise children.
Another important aspect of raising grandchildren, and a common source of stress, is money. Resources for grandparents can provide information about making savings last, using tax credits set up for grandparents, getting low-cost health insurance, accessing programs like food stamps and Social Security, and other financial advice.
Grandparents are a wonderful resource for their grandchildren. Unfortunately, some are forced into the position of becoming parents again, and the role is taking its toll. With more research, and support programs, they can learn to cope.