GRANDPARENTING OFTEN MORE THAN IT USED TO BE

AMARILLO – Raising children is never easy. But when the person doing the raising is an older adult who has already brought up his or her own children and is ready to slow down, it can be even tougher.

Whether through death of a parent, disability, substance abuse, incarceration or any other reason, more and more grandparents are becoming primary care givers for their own grandchildren. On its “Grandparents Raising Grandkids” Web site (http://grandparentsraisinggrandkids.tamu.edu/), Texas Cooperative Extension cites statistics that show about 8 percent of children in the United States are being raised by their grandparents.

This is a major life change for many older adults, and one they might be reluctant to accept. But help is available, said Andrew Crocker, Extension gerontology specialist based in Amarillo.

“Whether you are an after-school care giver or you have primary parenting responsibilities, you are helping to shape your grandchild’s life,” he said. “No matter how great or small your role may be, information is available (to help) find solutions and cope with problems you may be facing. Support groups that can help may also be available in your area.”

The extra financial responsibility that comes with raising a child can be an enormous concern for older adults, especially those living on a fixed income.

“Between trying to buy clothes and supplies for school, paying for medical and dental services, and buying groceries to feed a growing child, your pocketbook may be stretched a little thin,” Crocker said.

He advised first looking for help through some available government agencies, such as:

– Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): provides supplemental income to families with children younger than 18. Call (888) 834-7406 or go to http://www.dhs.state.tx.us/programs/TexasWorks/TANF-FAQ.html

– Supplemental Security Income (SSI): may be available when a grandparent receives Social Security and meets other guidelines. Visit http://www.ssa.gov/notices/supplemental-security-income/ or call the local Social Security office.

– Medicaid: provides basic medical care for qualifying children. Go to http://www.dhs.state.tx.us/programs/Elderly/medicaidQandA.html or call (888) 834-7406.

– Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP): a national program designed for children in families with too much income to qualify to Medicaid but not enough to afford private health insurance. Call (800) 647-6558 or visit the Web at http://www.hhsc.state.tx.us/chip/index.html

– Food stamps: helps qualifying families. Go to http://www.dhs.state.tx.us/programs/FoodStamps/FoodStampFAQ.html or call (877) 556-2200. Extension’s program, Better Living for Texans, may be able to help too: http://blt.tamu.edu/

For more information on these and other programs and how to qualify for them, visit the State of Texas Assistance and Referral System Web site at http://www.txstars.net/servlet/HSGServlet?page=Home

Getting back into the day-to-day rhythm of life with a child can take some doing too, for grandparents who have been out of the child-raising mode for a long time. “For some grandparents rearing their grandchildren, it may have been 20 or 30 years since the last time they helped with homework or had to discipline a child,” Crocker said. “These and other issues are important, not just for the success of the child in school, but also for their success in life.”

Crocker and other experts say some of the issues these full-time care-giving grandparents must face are:

– Setting goals: These goals include helping grandchildren become responsible and know their own significance and self-worth.

– Guiding: Because children learn by watching more than by hearing, show them – don’t tell them – what appropriate behavior looks like.

– Disciplining and teaching: Use age-appropriate methods to teach them about fundamental values and responsibility.

– Determining and monitoring: Television, movies and other media may show children more than they need to know. Make sure to monitor what they are exposed to through mass media.

– Nurturing: Affection can be expressed in ways that are comfortable to both adult and child. If a child doesn’t like to be hugged, find another way to show you care, such as joining in a favorite game.

– Listening and speaking: Like anyone else, children need to be able to talk about what’s on their minds and be listened to when they talk. Pay attention to them when they share their feelings.

– Providing food, clothing and shelter, as well as health care and a safe environment. The children also need their family and cultural heritage preserved as much as possible.

And while caring for their grandchildren on a full-time basis, grandparents need to remember to care for themselves too, Crocker said. “Rearing a grandchild can be as time consuming as caring for an ill family member. You must remember caring for yourself will allow you to provide the best care possible for your grandchild.”

Support groups can be invaluable in this process, he said. “Getting together with individuals who may be experiencing your same problems may provide you with helpful information and innovative ways of approaching problems.”

To find a support group, Crocker said, visit the AARP Web site at http://www.aarp.org/grandparents/searchsupport/ or contact the local Area Agency on Aging and ask for care giver specialists.

“Above all, think of rearing your grandchild as a wonderful opportunity for yourself and a wonderful service to your grandchild,” Crocker said.

“It may be hard, but the end results will be worth all the effort.” For more information contact a county Extension agent or visit the Web at http://grandparentsraisinggrandkids.tamu.edu/

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