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More grandparents raise their grandchildren

By BY GHENI PLATENBURG - GPLATENBURG@VICAD.COM
Sept. 12, 2011 at 4:12 a.m.

Annette Gant talks to a fellow grandparent during a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren event at the Pine Street Community Center on Sunday that celebrated Grandparents Day. For grandparents raising their grandchildren, the event offered them some time away. Group members put on several different activities for the kids to keep them preoccupied. Gant is raising her grandson, 12-year-old Tray'Lon Thomas.

When Annette Gant walked in the door of Tray'Lon Thomas' sixth-grade English class at Howell Middle School one afternoon last year, the then 11-year-old boy was shocked to say the least.

Not one to make idle threats, Gant had previously told Tray'Lon she would make an unannounced classroom visit if his unruly in-school behavior didn't change.

Thomas failed to heed Gant's warnings, so Gant made good on her threats.

"He didn't say anything. He just looked," said Gant, who chuckled as she described the flurry of whispers among Tray'Lon's classmates as she sat down in a chair next to him. "I'll go sit in the classroom. I don't play."

At 51 years old, Gant and her husband, Walter, 56, are part of a growing number of grandparents taking on parental roles in the lives of their grandchildren.

As of 2009, 2.7 million grandparents were responsible for the basic needs, including food, shelter and clothing, of one or more grandchildren who lived with them, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Of these caregivers, 1.7 million were grandmothers and 1 million were grandfathers.

Meanwhile, 7.5 million children were found to be living with a grandparent in 2010, comprising 10 percent of all children in the United States.

While family violence, teen pregnancy, incarceration, or the unemployment, death or blatant unwillingness of a parent to care for a child can all prompt a grandparent to step in as a primary caregiver to grandchildren, The Gants took over the role because of their daughter's inability to properly care for Tray'Lon.

After The Gants learned that their fourth child, Yolanda Thomas, was almost arrested for domestic violence and that Tray'Lon, who was 2 years and 7 months old at the time, was in danger of being taken away by Child Protective Services, they brought Tray'Lon back to Victoria for what they thought was a temporary basis.

"She made some bad choices," Annette Gant said about her daughter.

As the days turned to years, Annette Gant, who spent her days babysitting for her other grandchildren, and Walter Gant, a crew leader with the city of Victoria, found themselves not only standing in as full-fledged parents to Tray'Lon, but they also took in Thomas' second child Zariah twice throughout the years, as she continued with her own struggles, including a prison sentence.

For grandparents used to just enjoying the privileges of grandchildren without the responsibilities, having to raise children required major adjustments to their routines and plans.

"With the getting up at night and the feedings, I thought I was going to lose my mind," said Alice Snell, 60, who takes care of her two grandchildren, as well as their mentally-ill mother. "I just kept praying God would get me through this."

While the time spent getting up in the middle of the night to change dirty diapers and dispense nightly feedings decreased with age, the need to ensure their grandchildren are properly educated and well-rounded soon filled the grandparents' day and evening hours.

"If he does something in school, they don't have to say nothing, but I'm going to call your Mimi or your Grampy," said Annette Gant, who said she monitors her grandson's grades and classroom behavior activity on a daily basis. "We are those parents who you don't know when we are going to pop up, so you better stay on your P's and Q's."

Between PTO meetings, Little League sports and choir rehearsals, Snell, who had to drop out of nursing school at the age of 40 to care for her grandchildren, said she barely has time to catch her breath during the day.

"I'm not a drop-off grandma," Snell said. "Everywhere they went, I was there."

For grandchildren, being raised by grandparents can sometime bring unwanted attention.

"Sometimes, my classmates ask me about my grandparents, but I don't really give an answer," said Darius, Snell's grandchild.

Grandparents who do not have full legal custody of their grandchildren face a whole other set of difficulties.

After their daughter got out of prison and got a job, The Gants, who only had temporary custody, attempted to file for child support for Tray'Lon, only to be greeted with his mother's request to regain full custody of her child.

After a court battle, the Gants fought for and received full custody of their grandson.

"It's like he was ours. We had him so long," said Annette Gant. "I refused to give him up."

Raising children in this day and age can prove difficult for grandparents.

"Their thought process is so different than my own kids. What worked back then with my children, it's hard to incorporate with this generation," said Snell, as she described her efforts to monitor her grandchildren's television and computer intake. "It makes my job harder to instill in them to do the right things."

Raising children for the second time around does give grandparents an opportunity to correct some of the child-rearing mistakes they made with their own children.

"With my kids, it was what I say and they had no say so," Snell said. "Now, I listen to them and their ideas, and sometimes I allow them to make decisions."

For grandchildren like Snell's Ashley, it is important to recognize their grandparents for giving up their golden years to become parents again.

"We've had our ups and downs, but with them taking us in, I try to do whatever I can to help them," said Ashley, 20. "I give them their flowers while they are still here, and I give them a lot."

The Gants feel the answer to stopping the cycle of grandparents having to raise grandchildren lies in the way younger generations are being raised.

"My generation dropped the ball. So many people in our age group decided they were not going to raise our kids like we were raised," said Walter Gant. "Back then, they disciplined kids in a different manner. The whole neighborhood watched you. If you needed your butt whooped, they were going to do it. Your parents were going to get the message even if you had to go tell your parents what you did."

An over abundance of leniency among parents is also to blame, said Annette Gant.

"Back then, grandmothers would babysit if you needed to go to work. Now, they do it if you want to go to the club."

Snell had this advice for other grandparents in similar situations.

"Even though it doesn't look like it, there is a light at the end of the tunnel," said Snell. "Grandkids are truly a blessing."

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