Body, Mind & Spirit

Body, Mind & Spirit

Skipped Generations: Seniors Raising Grandchildren

by MARY JOYE, LMHC

Most of us have heard of personality or physical traits skipping a generation in families. An example of this would be if a grandparent was an excellent self-taught musician and their grandchild has become one. The skill skipped a generation. A skipped-generation family means something entirely different in terms of social psychology. A skipped-generation family is one with at least one grandparent raising a child in the absence of the middle-generation parent. 

This has become a more common occurrence. According to the Census Bureau, 39% of grandparents have been raising their grandchildren for more than five years. In the 1970s, only about 3% of households were skipped-generation ones. It can be simultaneously stressful and wonderful. The reasons are varied and usually evolve out of traumatic experiences, such as parents dying, being incarcerated, or addiction issues. Many parents lose custody of their children in some of these scenarios, and it is a good thing when a grandparent steps in to fill the caregiver role so the child does not have to be in foster care. Many states make it easier for grandparents to legally adopt their grandchildren, and in some cases, this gives both generations a sense of security.

However, there are caveats to skipped-generation families. It is highly stressful for the grandparents, and this may take on many forms such as financial burden or physical limitations that come with aging. There is always the looming fear from both parties that the grandparents will not live long enough to raise their grandchild to an age of self-sufficiency. The grandchild may internalize this fear of the aging process. This type of family dynamic can result in the grandchild having to mature and assist the grandparent with things they would not have to do with a younger parent. This can cause emotional stress in both generations. 

Behavioral problems can occur in youth, and boys are particularly at risk for acting out from having an absent parent. Attachment and feelings of abandonment can be carried into adult relationships that cause anxiety and a constant need for attention, validation, or reassurance. 

The good news is that grandparents can also get a sense of being needed and having a purpose, which is difficult to come by in old age due to retirement and ageism in society. 

An elderly acquaintance, who does not wish to be named, is in his early 90s and has successfully raised his grandchild. He was co-grandparenting with his wife until she passed away a decade ago. He remarked, “I think I am still alive because of my duty and responsibility for “Suzi.” She needs me and I want to be sure she becomes an adult with all she needs to live a happy life.” Suzi has an amazing rapport with her grandfather and was an adolescent when her grandmother passed away. She took on chores and learned how to care for her grandfather and herself. Her work ethic was as strong as her grandfather’s. 

It is inspiring to see these skipped families and their dedication and appreciation for one another. Perhaps the skipped generation families can teach us all something about finding purpose and meaning. We all know history repeats itself, and many things in society today are like what was happening in the time of Baby Boomers. The wisdom of living in that time can help grandchildren learn about history from a first-hand witness. On a lighter note, flared and bell bottom jeans are making a comeback. Could the jeans be in the genes? Maybe or maybe not, but most research studies concur there are complex emotional needs within skipped-generation families. Grandparents need more recognition and support as it really does take a village to raise our youth. If you are a grandparent or youth in need of help with your skipped-generation family, there are organizations and resources available. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Joye, LMHC, PA, is a licensed mental health counselor with offices in Lakeland and Winter Haven. She holds a Master of Arts in Counseling from Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee. For more information, visit www.maryjoyecounseling.com

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