The skipped generation
A new term is on the rise, given the fluid nature of families today.
THE definition of “family” has changed drastically in recent years with the advent of a new kind of family unit.
Due to various reasons – such as parents having drug problems, the rise of divorce, an economy that has put millions out of work, and single mums who can no longer raise their own children – we now have a growing generation of grandparents who find themselves in the trenches of raising young grandchildren.
This new phenomenon of parents depending on the grandparents to finish raising their children is also called “the skipped generation”.
As a grandparent, I once dreamed about my children leaving home to create their own lives as independent people, having a home of their own, good jobs, and grandchildren for me to spoil and send home. Retirement was something I looked forward to, with travel plans and the freedom I felt I deserved after decades of raising my kids.
One evening a few months ago, I received a call from the police department asking if I could go pick up my 14-year-old granddaughter for an indefinite period. Of course I went quickly, as Sherry (not her real name) and I had a strong bond. I had always told her to call me if she ever needed me for any reason.
I scooped her up in my arms and promised her that everything would be okay now – she was now with Grammy. I did what any other loving grandmother would do.
When the grandchildren need to be saved from dangerous situations and they have no other adult to turn to, grandparents take over to provide the safety and love the child desperately lacks but needs in order to become a good adult.
In 2008, census statistics show that 6.6 million children in the United States lived with their grandparents. Of those children, 4.4 million lived in the home of a grandparent without any help or interaction from their parents (US Census Bureau 2009). Those numbers are staggering and continue to increase yearly.
Older adults who once looked forward to growing a new nest of opportunities and goals now find themselves in the midst of having to start over again raising children. Many of these seniors live on a fixed income based on social security, disability or limited retirement funds that make suddenly having another child to support very difficult.
Getting custody of a grandchild often takes from several months to years to obtain. Government resources available to grandparents are limited. But most people tend to shy away from these resources because they are afraid of the intrusiveness of case workers and that, if one little thing is not right, the grandchild might be taken away into the juvenile court system.
Sherry approached me one day, wanting to go shopping for new jewellery. I explained to her that funds were short right now until custody was resolved. I felt bad because she had just been through a major crisis within her home, and as teenagers go, money to her seemed to grow on trees.
I was pleasantly surprised when she answered: “Grammy, it’s OK. I understand. I’m safe now, and that’s all that really matters.”
Kids are more resilient and often more wise than we give them credit for.
Our generation was raised with strong family attachments and values. We did our best with our children and, on hindsight, can now see areas where we probably could have improved. But that is true for every single parent on the planet.
We teach our children well and then must step back and allow them to make their own choices, good or bad. Sometimes that means having to pick up the pieces of their broken puzzle. For the sake of the grandchildren, we must step in and once again take the high road and provide the safety net our own children cannot manage to give their offspring.
I once heard a very wise man say that if money is your only problem, then you do not have much of a problem. Sherry is grateful that her grandparents love her enough to take her in – love her to pieces, in fact – and are committed to keeping her safe. I think that when all is said and done in this crazy world, she is right.
My mother used to tell me stories about her father being out of work and how they were so poor, she used tar paper to line her holey shoes. When they were evicted from house after house, the aunts and uncles got together and offered their home, food and warmth to my mother’s family.
It was what families did in those days. Our society has become so transient and irresponsible that the nuclear family model and tradition seems lost.
While we wait for a custody decision, we’ve made up a new budget that considers our grandchild and her needs as best we can for now. But providing our love and looking out for her safety and well-being knows no limits and needs no accounting. There will always be plenty of that to go around. – © McClatchy-Tribune News Service