Step­ping up to the task

For a grow­ing num­ber of grand­par­ents, rais­ing their grand­chil­dren is the right thing to do.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - SENIOR - By PETE PICHASKE

SEVEN years ago, Debby Blush and her long- time part­ner, Clark Cooper, had the lives most cou­ples in their mid- 50s dream of: the heavy lift­ing of child- rear­ing over, they were free to come and go as they pleased – vis­it­ing clubs when they wanted, tak­ing short get­aways and en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany.

Those days are long gone. In late 2009, Blush’s only child, Erin, was di­ag­nosed with can­cer. Five months later, she died, leav­ing be­hind her three- year- old son, Jack.

With Jack’s father out of the pic­ture, Blush and Cooper did what grand­par­ents do. They took cus­tody of Jack, mov­ing him into their Ful­ton home in Mary­land, the United States. And just like that, they were par­ents again – only this time, much older par­ents.

“It was quite an ad­just­ment,” Blush, 63, re­calls. “But it was the only op­tion. I had some thoughts, like, ‘ I wish we didn’t have to do this.’ But it was the right thing to do. And we did it.”

For a grow­ing num­ber of grand­par­ents, rais­ing a child ( or chil­dren) is the right thing to do.

A 2013 study by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter found that 7 mil­lion grand­par­ents are liv­ing with a child, up 22% from 2000. Of that 7 mil­lion, about 40% or 2.7 mil­lion, are the pri­mary care­tak­ers.

“There def­i­nitely are more ev­ery year,” says Va­lerie Liss, care­giver pro­gramme co­or­di­na­tor in the Howard County Of­fice on Age­ing.

Liss and oth­ers say the rea­sons grand­par­ents take over rais­ing their chil­dren’s chil­dren vary. Some of the par­ents are in jail, while oth­ers have drug prob­lems or men­tal health is­sues. Some, like Blush’s daugh­ter, die. What­ever the rea­son, the new job can be dif­fi­cult for grand­par­ents, both legally and emo­tion­ally.

“Most of them have al­ready raised their own chil­dren and are look­ing for­ward to kind of be­ing able to take it easy,” Liss says. “They’re get­ting on in age them­selves, and now all of a sud­den they’re tak­ing on more chil­dren to raise. It’s very, very chal­leng­ing for them to be not only pro­vid­ing a home and rais­ing their grand­chil­dren, which they want to do, but also to get the ser­vices they need.”

Va­lerie Har­vey, an ado­les­cent re­source spe­cial­ist in the county Of­fice of Chil­dren’s Ser­vices who han­dles a re­fer­ral line for res­i­dents with ques­tions about car­ing for their grand­chil­dren, says many of the calls are about how to ob­tain le­gal cus­tody or guardian­ship, a ne­ces­sity for such tasks as en­rolling the child in school and ob­tain­ing health cov­er­age.

Grand­par­ents also raise other is­sues, she said, such as where to find ( and how to af­ford) child­care and how to han­dle the brave new world of so­cial me­dia. Har­vey reg­u­larly leads work­shops for par­ents of ado­les­cents, and she said the grand­par­ents who at­tend of­ten are wor­ried about the po­ten­tial haz­ards of new tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia.

“Most tweens and teens know so much more than they do, and they say they just don’t know what the chil­dren are do­ing,” Har­vey says. “I tell them, ‘ You’re never go­ing to catch up with th­ese kids, but you should con­tinue to ed­u­cate your­selves so you know what’s go­ing on some.’ And I en­cour­age them to know who their chil­dren’s friends are.”

But if the task of rais­ing grand­chil­dren can be over­whelm­ing, it can also be a bless­ing, grand­par- ents say, and the work of rais­ing an­other child or two can be a labour of love.

Just ask Flora Hairston. The Columbia woman, al­ready a mother of four, found her­self with an in­fant to raise at age 52 when her sin­gle daugh­ter had a child and, for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, Hairston as­sumed cus­tody. “It’s been a big plate,” says Hairston, now 70, who left her job early in part to care for the child, then an in­fant. Her grand­daugh­ter, Kelly, had med­i­cal is­sues, in­clud­ing Type 1 di­a­betes that made car­ing for her es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing.

But to­day, Kelly is a lov­ing, car­ing young woman of 18, about to grad­u­ate from Wilde Lake High School and pur­sue a nurs­ing de­gree at Howard Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

“I can’t even be­gin to tell you how much it’s been worth it,” Hairston says. “Kelly’s just a great kid – out­stand­ing.”

In part be­cause she has not worked, Hairston rue­fully con­cedes that she de­voted more time and en­ergy to Kelly than she did to

When we lose our­selves in ea ot er t at s w en we re­ally find our­selves. Grand par­ents are price­less tools for fam­i­lies. Kids re­ally need grand­par­ents.

Flora Hairston

her chil­dren. She’s al­ways been close to Kelly’s friends and while Kelly has pulled away some, the two still shop to­gether, walk to­gether around Lake Kit­ta­maqundi, and talk to­gether end­lessly. “We talk about ev­ery­thing,” Hairston says.

Hairston calls rais­ing Kelly a ma­jor learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that taught her the value of self­less­ness. “It was such a ma­jor learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, but what it taught you is it’s not about you, not about us. It’s about each other. When we lose our­selves in each other, that’s when we re­ally find our­selves.”

Be­sides the value of self­less­ness, the ex­pe­ri­ence taught her the im­por­tance of grand­par­ents – for all chil­dren. “Grand­par­ents are price­less tools for fam­i­lies,” she said. “Kids re­ally need grand­par­ents.”

This is not news to Kelly, who is well aware of what her grand­mother has done for her. “We get along well,” she says. “I’ve been with her all my life – I love her.”

Debby Blush would se­cond Hairston’s sen­ti­ments. When they took cus­tody of Jack, she and Cooper, also 63, made the sac­ri­fices they felt they should. They stayed home to pro­vide the boy with a con­stant pres­ence and sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment, got up morn­ings to pack his lunches and get him ready for school, and did all those other lov­ing tasks that par­ents, usu­ally half their age, typ­i­cally do. They even got mar­ried af­ter decades of com­pan­ion­ship, so that if any­thing hap­pened to her, Cooper, who is not Jack’s bi­o­log­i­cal grand­fa­ther, would get cus­tody.

On top of all that, Blush still wres­tles with her spe­cial emo­tional at­tach­ment to Jack, now nine, which she says dif­fers from what she felt as a mother.

“I feel like I’m in a grand­mother frame of mind when it comes to Jack,” she says.

Like the stereo­typ­i­cal grand­par­ent, for ex­am­ple, she has trou­ble dis­ci­plin­ing her grand­son and can­not stand to see him un­happy. “I hate it when he’s up­set,” she says. “I guess I hated it when my daugh­ter was up­set, but some­thing just feels dif­fer­ent about it, and I guess it’s be­ing grand­mother as op­posed to mother.”

Still, the work, the sac­ri­fices and the emo­tional tur­moil are noth­ing com­pared to the joys of see­ing her grand­son grow.

“It’s just been great,” she says. “It’s re­ally ter­rific.” Know­ing she’s do­ing it for her daugh­ter makes it all the bet­ter.

“Jack’s a ter­rific reader, and I know my daugh­ter would be so thrilled,” Blush says, not­ing that her grand­son’s cur­rent favourites are the se­ries of chil­dren’s books writ­ten by ac­tor Henry Win­kler and Lin Oliver, Hank Zipzer: The World’s Great­est Un­der­achiever. “It’s kind of like a dou­ble hap­pi­ness. I’m happy see­ing it, and when­ever I think about it, I feel she’s look­ing down from heaven and she’s happy, too.” – The Bal­ti­more Sun/ Tribune News Ser­vice

Hairston, 70, raised her grand­daugh­ter, Kelly Fra­zier, 18, since she was an in­fant. — TNS

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