Grandparents As Parents

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Each year, millions of grandparents raise their grandchildren. Without these grandparents being willing to assume care, many of the grandchildren would be in foster care. But raising grandchildren is demanding and usually results from difficult circumstances such as the death or unwed teen pregnancy of a child. These grandparent caregivers need our help to overcome the demands of their role.

Said, one grandfather:

"We grandparents who are going through these times are all in this together. We are a resource in our community but we need help. We need help to raise these babies to be good men and women. We need help to survive. Sometimes all we need to hear from someone is that we are not alone . . . that someone appreciates the job we are doing (Burton, 1992, p. 750)."

The Family: A Proclamation to the World calls upon extended family to "lend support when needed" ( ¶7). It further calls upon "responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society" ( ¶9).

Whether you are a social worker, community member, counselor, therapist, a family member of a grandparent caregiver, or just someone interested in helping, there are things you can do to assist grandparent caregivers. By doing so, you will be able to strengthen families in today's society.

Being familiar with the needs of grandparent caregivers will help you help them. Listed below are several of these needs and some suggestions about how you can help.

What Grandparent Caregivers Need

  • Respite services provide occasional care for their grandchildren. Respite care is temporary residential care of patients (or in this case, grandchildren) of permanent caregivers. Grandparents often don't get a chance to go out by themselves. Many commented that they "wanted care for their grandchildren that they could trust . . . that when they came back to get their grandchildren, child protective services would not have taken them away" (Burton, 1992, p. 750).
  •  Recognition of being parents before. Grandparents have already raised children once. They do not need to learn the basics. As one grandfather put it, "Respect [the grandparent's] position. They have been parents. . . . We don't need to be taught the basics, I guess. Respect their knowledge. Okay? There is nothing more sickening than to hear somebody quote verse and text from some page in a book, like Dr. Spock, that they just read" (Landry-Meyer & Newman, 2004, p. 1015).
  • Parenting classes are designed especially for grandparents. While grandparents have been parents before, they still may need help to parent. They may not be up-to-date on the issues facing children today. Parenting classes designed for grandparents may be helpful.
  • Recognition as a legitimate family structure. Grandparents raising grandchildren want others to accept their family as normal. They want to be included in family events at schools and in communities.
  •  Intergenerational social and leisure programs. Grandparents (and grandchildren) would like to participate in activities involving others like them. Programs designed for grandparents and grandchildren would allow them to meet others like them, build friendships, and have fun without sticking out as different from everyone else

Burton (1992) lists some additional needs:

  •  Legal counseling concerning foster care and guardianship options
  •  Seminars to help them understand drug use in their adult children
  •  Job counseling and information on starting a business at home
  •  Emotional support including counseling and support groups

Ways You Can Help

  •  Start a non-profit day-care center for relative caregivers of children
  •  Volunteer at or donate money or supplies to an existing day-care center
  •  Offer free babysitting services to a grandparent caregiver you know well
  •  Organize or facilitate parenting classes for grandparents
  •  Help grandparents feel welcome at a school event
  •  Organize a social for grandparents and grandchildren at church or in the community
  •  Teach a workshop on foster care and guardianship options
  •  Start a support group for grandchildren who are raised by grandparents
  •  Teach seminars on adult drug use
  •  Be a friend to a grandparent caregiver or a grandchild being raising a grandparent
  • Refer a grandparent caregiver to the Baltimore Caregivers website

These are just a few suggestions of what you can do. Use one of these ideas or come up with your own ideas on how you can help. Whatever you do, you have the potential to make a big difference in the life of a grandparent caregiver--to give something back to a growing group of grandparents who give so much to bless the life of a child.

Written by Rebecca J. S. Cox, Research Assistant, and edited by Richard B. Miller and Stephen F. Duncan, Professors in the School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.


Burton, L. M. (1992). Black grandparents rearing children of drug-addicted parents: Stressors, outcomes, and social service needs. Gerontologist, 32, 744-751.

The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (1995, November). The family: A proclamation to the world. Ensign, 102. Retrieved July 6, 2005.

Glass, J. C., & Huneycutt, T. L. (2002). Grandparents parenting grandchildren: Extent of situation, issues involved, and educational implications. Educational Gerontology, 28 (2), 139-161.

Landry-Meyer, L., & Newman, B. M. (2004). An exploration of the grandparent caregiver role. Journal of Family Issues, 25, 1005-1025. Musil, C. M., & Standing, T. (2005). Grandmothers' diaries: A glimpse at daily lives. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 60, 317-329.

Simmons, T. & Dye, J. L. (2003). Grandparents living with grandchildren: 2000. In US Census Bureau 2000 Brief. Retrieved June 20, 2005