Gray Matters: Grandparents who are parents again

By Carol Harrison May 03, 2012 12:00 am

Editor's note: The Area 1 Agency on Aging commissions freelance writer Carol Harrison to produce Gray Matters every two weeks.

Kelly Remington appears in the show, “Skipping Generations.” Submitted
Kelly Remington appears in the show, “Skipping Generations.” Submitted
More than one in every four U.S. adults is a grandparent, but 1,200 grandparents in Humboldt and Del Norte counties are pulling double duty.

They are among the one in 12 grandparents stepping in as parents when their children are unable or unwilling to care for their grandchildren. The isolation, lack of resources and challenges they face are spotlighted in “Skipping Generations: Grandparents Raising Grandchildren,” a joint production of KEET-TV and Area 1 Agency on Aging.

The show debuted Nov. 6 on KEET. As part of Older Americans Month, A1AA is airing the 30-minute documentary again on successive Sundays in May.  

On May 6, KIEM-TV Channel 3 will air the piece at 9 a.m. It will air again at 9:30 a.m. on May 13 on KVIQ-TV Channel 6.

Arcata’s Barbara Davis, Eureka’s Kelly Remington, Fortuna’s Carl Young and the grandparent support group in which he participates are spotlighted in the 30-minute show.

 “We love our grandchildren very much. They light up our lives,” Young said. “But a lot of us have put retirement plans on hold and the resources out there — everything from respite care to transportation — aren’t addressing the needs of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.”

“We made it through being parents. We can hang with this,” said Davis, who took charge of her grandson, Travon, after his father died in a car accident. “But when you’re right in the midst of it, it’s like, oh God, I can’t deal with this.”

Young and his wife are the legal guardians for 2-year-old Emily. She is their third grandchild — the offspring of their youngest son, who struggles with autism, and a woman now in treatment for a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder, Young said.

He spent thousands on legal advice to get an attorney for an uncontested guardianship, then discovered a self-help center in the Family Law Division at the Humboldt County Courthouse (445-7256) that would have saved him money, Young said.

Del Norte’s Family Law Facilitator is located at 450 H St. in Crescent City (707-465-1896).

“We need to know what resources are out there,” he said.  “Grandparents raising grandchildren is something no one seems to know anything about.”

Emily and Travon are two of the 4.9 million children nationwide who live in grandparent-headed households, a 10 percent increase in the past decade and a 30 percent jump since 1990.

“Those are just the ones we know about,” said Todd Metcalf, director of programs for A1AA. “Most of us know many other grandparents who are informally raising their grandchildren and don’t want to talk about it or can’t.”

Unemployment, mental illness, death, divorce, incarceration, teen pregnancy and substance abuse are often cited for the skip in generational responsibility. Reticence is rooted in shame and embarrassment.

“As a society, we hold parents responsible for the actions of their children, even after they become adults,” said Remington, who raised four of her own children and two grandsons. She is the director of Foster-Kinship Care Education at College of the Redwoods and leads a kinship care support group that meets the fourth Tuesday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon on the Del Norte campus at 883 W. Washington Blvd. in Crescent City in room DS1.

“I’ve raised six children, and one of them is in prison. There’s a lot of guilt. A lot.”

In the 1990s, drugs and prostitution turned her daughter and son-in-law into unfit parents for her two grandsons, Willie and Brad. She’s dealt with anger at switching from a grandmother to a mother, and the anger from one grandson blaming her for the loss of his mother and the limits on her visits. She’s seen friends disappearand she’s grappled with too many mouths to feed and too little to feed them with.

“Eighty percent of us are out there floundering around,” she said. “I was scared all the time I wouldn’t be able to pay the bills.”

“In this economy now, it’s hard,” Davis said. “It’s starting all over again.”

Remington said most grandparents start out helping for a day or a week.

“It may go on for years and then they have the grandchildren most of the time, but they don’t even have guardianship,” she said.  “They’re scared the parents will come back and get the grandkids.”

She said in working with grandparents, she prefaces every conversation with: What’s in the best interest of the kids?

“It’s a difficult decision, but grandparents who have guardianship have a more stable legal relationship with the child,” she said.

Legal stability does nothing to help grandparents with the day-to-day parenting in the 21st century.

“So many different rules and generation changes,” Davis said. “As grandparents, we need to do things to support each other.”

“These children are different than the ones we raised,” Remington said. “The times are different. Society is different. Their behaviors are different.”

Many grandchildren “have special medical, psychological and educational needs stemming from parental misconduct or neglect,” noted the Ohio State University Family and Consumer Science Fact Sheet.

“We want grandparents to know they are not alone,” Metcalf said. “And we want everyone else to think about what we can do as neighbors and policy makers to help.”

“If I would have known what I was in for when I brought the boys into my home, I would have been more terrified,” Remington said.

As it is, she said she spent most of the last 15 years “exhausted and feeling like a failure.”

But when her grandson became a father last year, she felt she’d come full circle.

“You never give up on family,” she said.

CR Foster-Kinship Care is located at 333 Sixth St. in Eureka (707-445-6727).  

“Make sure they know: we will call them back if they leave a message,” said Janet Robinson, Remington’s administrative assistant at CR. “There are so many people with guardianship or informal arrangements that don’t know where to go.  We can help.”

Robinson said a foster support group also runs the third Tuesday of the month from 9:30 a.m. to noon in the same DS1 room.

“Some kinship parents go to that, too,” Robinson said.

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