The skipped gen­er­a­tion

A new term is on the rise, given the fluid na­ture of fam­i­lies to­day.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By JILLY PRATHER

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

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