Caring for Your Children's Kids


By Cheryl Gochnauer
Copyright 2003

There was a time not so long ago when stay-at-home moms were ignored by the media, misjudged by their neighbors, and overlooked by the government. (Remember the 2000 U.S. Census, which listed at-home parents as "nonworking"?) I'm happy to report, however, that SAHMs have made great strides over the past couple of years.

Now there are lots of books, websites and support groups catering to SAHMs. Articles in major newspapers and national magazines feature smiling moms taking time out to raise their little ones. Single mothers share ideas on working from home so they can be with their children. Even stay-at-home dads are in the spotlight, enjoying growing acceptance of this once taboo male lifestyle choice.

But there's another stay-at-home group that can easily be missed, simply because they traditionally fall into the "babysitter" category: grandparents.

"I'm a SAHGM: a stay-at-home grandmother raising a special-needs grandson," says Jean Kilts of Eatonville, Washington. "According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), there are an estimated 40,000 children in this state alone who are being raised in homes headed by grandparents, and those numbers are rising.

"We SAHGPs are a very stretched generation; still trying to provide some model of stability for our own kids even if they're in their 20s, 30s, or beyond. We're providing daily hands-on care of our grandchildren, many of whom have special physical, developmental, educational, and/or emotional needs. We're trying desperately to prepare (financially and in every other way) for our own rapidly-approaching retirement, or are struggling to make it on a fixed, retirement income. And many of us are providing at least some level of care for our own elderly parents.

"Often we have lost much of our own friendship network by stepping back into full-time parenting. We don't fit with most friends our own age any more, and also don't fit with the young parents of our grandchildren's peers. It can be a little lonely. There are some support groups for people in our situation, but accessing them isn't as easy at it sounds. Many of the meetings conflict with the children's school schedules, many of us don't like driving at night any more unless we absolutely have to, and finding affordable, trustworthy child-care, especially for special-needs kids, is a real challenge.

"So when you're thinking of the hassles of SAHMs, think of us, too - doing it all despite arthritis aches and pains, bifocals, and all those things my doctor refers to as 'normal processes of aging', often putting off our own medical care because we can't afford it AND provide what the children in our care need; basically putting our own lives on hold because a child or children need us.

"I hope I don't sound bitter," Jean continues. "We're raising our grandson by choice and couldn't love him more if he had been born to us. I quit my jobs (I was a foster home recruiter, licensor, and trainer and was teaching at a local community college) when it became clear that we were going to raise him. That cut our income in half. It may sound incredible, but we haven't missed the money. Higher income tax, business lunches, having to drive a late model car, maintaining a working wardrobe, etc. were sucking up most of my profits. It didn't hurt that we're basically tightwads at heart!"

Do you have a SAHGM (or stay-at-home grandpa) in your life? Let them know again how much you appreciate them, and help them connect with other adults who are doing the same thing. In short, give them the respect and support they deserve. After all, they are a critical link in the upbringing of the child you all love.

Comments? Write or visit her website at Cheryl's books, "So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom" and "Stay-at-Home Handbook: Advice on Finances, Parenting, Career, Surviving Each Day & More" are available at your favorite bookstore, or you can order an autographed copy directly from Cheryl by following this link:

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