Problems of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Grandparents raising their grandchildren are becoming more and more widespread these days. Why? Some of the reasons include teen pregnancy, abandonment by parents, unwanted pregnancy, resentment of children for loss of freedom, parents are deceased, and substance abuse among many others.

Many people do not think this would be any tougher task than raising their children; however, it is and for different reasons. While taking care of small children is already difficult, the issue is compounded by economic issues. By the time people become grandparents, they are generally retired and living on a fixed budget; however, here comes this baby they had not planned on raising. Then the budget has to be redone and sometimes the grandparents have to go back to work, even though they are retired, to be able to support this grandchild or grandchildren. This can bring a financial stress to the couple that they were not prepared for. Does that mean that grandparents should turn a deaf ear when asked to help? Of course not. It suggests seniors need to be prudent about outright gift-giving, which is one of the most common mistakes seniors make. Here is some advice for grandparents:

  • Pay your mortgage and credit bills before opening your wallet.
  • Set up Roth IRAs for grandkids where the money you contribute will basically grow tax-free.
  • Negotiate interest-free loans with a flexible repayment schedule.
  • Budget wisely for holidays and birthday gifts.

There may be mental health challenges for aging people faced with the constant demands of being a parent again. Although taking on this responsibility is noble, it sometimes comes at a great cost to the grandparent’s health. Particularly, the grandparent’s mental health could be compromised because many older people already have emotional issues that have been undiagnosed.

How does raising grandchildren affect grandparents?

Physically grandparents are exhausted. Grandparents do more cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, and much more. They have less energy the older they get. Needless to say, even the fittest grandparent soon discovers how exhausting it is to run after a toddler and cart around a teenager. The best advice is to not be bullied or become guilt ridden if your child demands to much of your time. You’ve been there, done that. Be upfront about how much you can handle and your physical capabilities.

Emotionally, the experience can be very straining. Grandparents have to learn their needs-and meet them- all over again. When their own children leave home they become accustomed to certain things, such as, more freedom, more time to spend with their spouses, and less financial responsibility. After they take on the raising of their grandchildren it changes everything. It is now back to diapers, overnight feedings, less freedom, more financial hardship, and more sibling rivalry. No mother can ever miss sibling rivalry. The AARP identifies 4 emotional reactions that grandparents have when taking on the task of raising their grandchildren:

  • Anger. Many grandparents in this situation thought that this time was supposed to be their time for rest and relaxation. They had paid their dues and now they should be able to retire, travel, and work on their favorite hobbies. Taking care of small children takes this freedom away, and many grandparents become resentful for it.
  • Guilt. Grandparents feel some guilt for how things turned out with their adult children. If they had handled things differently, perhaps they would not be in this situation.
  • Stress. There are so many decisions for grandparents to make when they are raising their grandchildren such as registering them for school, social worker visits, and the everyday costs of raising a child.
  • Loneliness. Unless grandparents are in a community filled with other grandparents raising grandchildren, many feel like they are going through this challenging time alone.

Other issues include teenage rebellions and the challenge of equipping grandchildren with new technology while keeping them safe. In addition, there are role conflicts between the natural role of grandparent and the new role of “parent”. Grandparents traditionally love to spoil their grandkids with little discipline. The role of disciplinarian may be difficult for the grandparent and grandchild to comprehend.

Financially grandparents are more strapped. Some grandparents that are caring for their grandchildren are just surviving on Social Security checks and we all know that is not much. Grandparents now have taken on the financial responsibility of school clothes, extra-curricular activities, more groceries, health insurance, doctor bills, and braces.Grandparents who are retired and living on a fixed income, may need assistance in order to deal with the additional expense of taking care of children during their retirement years.

Guardianship Option for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

There are certain situations where guardianship may hinder a grandparents ability to qualify for needed assistance. Different states have different rules for regarding benefits. Checking with an attorney before deciding if guardianship will be a wise choice. Several options are open for grandparents, including legal guardianship, legal custody, adoption, or becoming a foster parent for grandchildren.

Grandparents should start with asking the courts to award them legal guardianship of their grandchild or grandchildren, if this is the best option for their situation. This step will allow grandparents to make important decisions for the children. Legal guardianship may be necessary for enrollment in school, giving permission to physicians for medical treatment, and applying for financial assistance.

Financial Assistance for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Grandparents should not use their savings to try and meet extra bills for the grandchildren. Seeking assistance from government programs should be done first to see if help is available.

The federal government does offer help through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. This is a part of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and can provide money to families if grandchildren are eligible for the benefits. This is a federal program but it is run through the state government. There are TANF grants for the children only and the traditional assistance which is issued to the adults caring for the children. Grandchildren may qualify for Social Security benefits. Food stamps, if eligible, will help with monthly expenses. These programs can be applied for at the local Job and Family Services and Social Security offices.

Child-only grants are for the grandchild only and traditional TANF grants are for the grandparents. Most states will allow families to switch over to that grant from the one issued for the family. If you are accepting money from the regular grant, individuals must perform community service or have a job within two years. Some states may give less time because rules vary state to state. Of course, there are exceptions and extensions such as the following: the grandchildren are younger than 12 months or you cannot find childcare for a grandchild under 6 years old. With a child-only grant, there are no work requirements, the grandchild can probably get benefits for more than five years but in most states one will receive less money than the traditional grant.

Traditional TANF grants offer financial assistance to families with a low income. While the states run this program, all must follow some basic guidelines. Adults cannot receive TANF benefits for more than five years (this is a lifetime limit) and adults who receive TANF benefits must get a job when the state determines you are ready.

The grandparent or grandchild could be eligible for financial assistance through TANF but rules and guidelines vary from state to state. States may also have other programs other than TANF in place to help these families.

If you believe you qualify for TANF benefits you can receive help from a variety of sources. First, your caseworker can provide information and in some states is the agency in which you apply for this help. Most grandparents raising their grandchildren are likely to have a caseworker already involved in your family but if not, call the local human services office for information. Local legal service organizations may also have information about TANF as well as local/state child and family advocacy programs, local or state social service offices, and local or state elected officials.

Check with the IRS to see if raising and having legal guardianship will qualify grandparents to be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. These two programs will give grandparents extra cash credit at tax time each year.

Insurance Benefits for Grandchildren

The majority of grandparents will not be financially able to provide for health care for their grandchildren. Private insurance is too expensive and if the grandparents have health insurance via their job, grandchildren do not always qualify for their plan.

States have two programs to help with health insurance for grandchildren. These programs are available at little to no cost for coverage:

  • Medicaid – Helps families with low incomes pay medical bills. Each individual state has certain criteria to qualify. Children who are eligible can get Medicaid benefits until they are 19 years old.
  • State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP or SCHIP) – If a grandchild does not qualify for Medicaid, CHIP may be another option. Each state has a CHIP or SCHIP program. Most times, Medicaid needs to be applied for first and if grandchildren are not eligible for Medicaid, they may qualify for CHIP. CHIP covers children until they are 19 years old and will pay for medicine, hospital stays, checkups, eyeglasses and shots.

Most states do not use a grandparent’s income as a qualifying factor. They look at a child’s income. Since the majority of children do not have an income, most are likely to qualify for help. Wyoming is one state that does count a grandparent’s income for Medicaid. Colorado, Montana, Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania will count income for CHIP, if grandparents are legal guardians.

Resources and Additional Information for Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren

Grandparents taking over the task of raising their grandchildren should seek out information on all the help that is available to them. Raising grandchildren is not only physically demanding, it is mentally and financially draining as well.

Information can be obtained from the child welfare agency, court system, bar association, senior centers, or a grandparent resource center.

Seeking the advice of an attorney is always recommended. If grandparents are unable to afford a lawyer, free legal services are an option. Check with the local Area Agency or Aging, legal aid clinic, or a university law clinic.

Having to raise a child or children a second time around can be a very stressful situation. It can result in financial burden as well as disrupt a senior’s retirement plans. However, there are many resources and support groups out there for grandparents who are raising their grandchild or grandchildren, which can bring much needed stress relief and support. Additionally, when the grandparents see that grandchild smile and grow into a very happy child, it makes all the stress and struggle worth it.