LUBBOCK “Webster’s says grand’ is large and impressive in size and scope,’ … dignified or noble in appearance or effect’ … wonderful or very pleasing’,” said Betty Dotts.
That definition is a wonderful illustration of why grandparent are so special, she said as she opened her talk on “Grandparenting Today” at the Building Strong Families Conference held recently at the First Church of the Nazarene in Lubbock.
Dotts, herself a mother and grandmother, is also a church and community volunteer, and has a degree from McMurry University in Abilene. “I worked a long time with older adults, even before I became one!” she said with a smile.
And that’s how she knows “grandparenting is a gift between two people at opposite ends” of life, she said. Grandparents “love without condition, just for the sake of the child.”
A grandparent, Dotts said, is “emotional money in the bank for our grandchildren. There’s a Bosnian saying: It’s easier to build a child than to rebuild a person.’” And that’s what grandparents do use their unconditional love to help children grow strong.
From their grandchildren, older adults receive a sense of immortality, of value passed on to the next generation, and an increased feeling of well-being, Dotts said.
In the normal course of events, grandparents retire from active parenting, while their adult children, in turn, raise their own offspring. Unfortunately many families don’t follow this normal course, and many grandparents find they cannot relinquishing the role of parent, Dotts said.
In this country, 2.4 million grandparents are raising their own grandchildren, she said; 4.5 million children are being raised in these grandparent-headed families. “That’s up 30 percent since 1990,” she said.
This increase can be linked to many causes, Dotts said, including emotional problems of the parents; divorce, death or incarceration of the parents; parental unemployment; substance abuse; teen pregnancy; and family violence, including child abuse, neglect or abandonment.
For whatever reason, today in this country “11 percent of grandparents are raising their grandchildren,” Dotts said. “Many of these grandparents are divorced, widowed, on fixed incomes, have severe health problems and get insufficient government help. One in 10 grandparents raise their grandchildren for at least six months; four in 10 are caregivers for infants.”
These grandparents can be younger than 50 or older than 65; in any case, they are in an unexpected situation, Dotts said, and they need support from friends, family, church, community and government agencies.
These older caregivers may be “prone to psychological and emotional strain as well as feelings of isolation and helplessness,” she said. “They may face financial difficulties many are on $20,000 year or less (and) half are on the poverty level. The grandchildren often have unmet physical, emotional and developmental needs. The grandparents need legal authority to get medical care (for their grandchildren), enroll them in school, get support services …”
Such agencies as Health and Human Services and the Area Agency on Aging might be able to provide some support, but it’s not enough, Dotts said. Help must also come from the community, from faith-based organizations and from the family.
“Speak to your legislator in particular,” she advised.
Changes bring challenges, and “family structure has changed,” she said. But the love between grandparent and grandchildren remains constant.
The Building Strong Families conference for parents and those who work with them was organized in the mid-1990s by the Partners for Parenting Coalition, said Linda Lynch Evans, Texas Cooperative Extension family and consumer science agent in Lubbock County. This coalition includes about 45 local agencies that provide services for families, and Extension has been a part of that coalition since it was founded in 1989.