9/22/2021 | By Terri L. Jones

After my 19-year-old niece announced that she was pregnant in early 2020, my sister and brother-in-law bought a new home where the four of them could live comfortably and the new grandparents could play an active role in their grandson’s life. Another friend’s sister has had her daughter, grandson, and the child’s father living with her for the past five or six years. My mother’s neighbors are raising their 11-year-old grandchild after his mother died of a drug overdose. Another family member is raising her grandchild because the child’s mother is in jail.

While grandparents have helped raise grandchildren for millennia, the trend is on the rise these days with roughly 2.7 million kids living under the same roof as their grandparents; what has become known as “grandfamilies.” While most of these older caregivers gladly take on this role, the responsibility can be fraught with challenges for everyone involved.

Where do we live?

Many of these older adults may not have the space in their homes for extra residents. Not to mention, if seniors live in age-restricted communities they won’t be able to continue to live there with children. And if they’ve retired or have plans to, they may not be able to afford a new home.

Currently there are at least 19 grandfamily housing projects in the U.S. to help keep housing affordable for these new family units, with legislation being re-introduced in Congress to create a national pilot program to expand this program across the country. Besides affordable rent, these communities may offer social services, like mental health specialists as well as an opportunity to experience intergenerational living, which is extremely beneficial for kids and older adults alike.

How will we afford it?

If you’re living on a fixed income, it may be difficult to make ends meet if your grandkids come to live with you. Aside from maintaining a good budget and sharing resources with other families, there may be some avenues for financial assistance from the government.

According to an article in Kiplinger’s, grandparents of “grandfamilies” may qualify for certain tax credits, such as the child tax credit (the caregiver must have taken care of the child for at least six months). As for Social Security, the child could be eligible for up to 50 percent of a disabled parent’s benefit or if a parent is deceased, up to 75 percent of a survivor benefit. If the grandparents claim the child as a dependent and the parents are disabled or deceased – or the grandparents adopt the child – the child may qualify for 50 percent of a grandparent’s Social Security benefit.

How do we manage these grandfamilies emotionally?

There’s no doubt you’ll feel overwhelmed and stressed about the situation, maybe even angry that your children put you in this position; or envious of your friends who are enjoying their retirement. But these negative feelings will likely be mixed with joy in being able to impact these little ones’ lives.

Said one grandma in a New York Times article, “ … Most of all I miss being a grandmother. I have to do the things a mother does instead of being the fun person I used to be. Still I wouldn’t give them up for anything.”

If the children are older, they too will experience many emotions about this huge change. If their parents are living nearby, they may miss them and not understand why they can’t live with them. Their behavior may take a turn for the worse. Neither you nor the kids should suppress your emotions or feel guilty about them. Acknowledge your feelings, talk them out and seek support from others in a similar situation or even a therapist.

No one will ever tell you that raising your grandchildren will be easy. But it can give you purpose, keep you young and reward you in countless ways!

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over ten years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones