Why Do Grandparents Raise Grandchildren


Many American children are being raised solely by their grandparents. On the surface, this isn’t a significant number, but it equates to almost three million children. How does this happen?

Grandparents raise grandchildren due to economics, substance abuse, death, incarceration, neglect, and child abuse. An adult child’s divorce can also cause a grandparent to step in. Love for a grandchild ultimately becomes the dominant motivator.

Grandparents raising grandchildren has been going on for generations. But in today’s society, you wouldn’t think this would be so commonplace. We’ll take a look at why it’s happening more and more.

Two Ways Grandparents Raise Children

There are different versions of grandparents raising children. A house could be a multi or three-generational home, or it could be a skipped generation.

Three Generation Households are Prevalent

In a three-generational household, the grandparent, adult child, and grandchild live under the same roof. And although the grandparent isn’t the primary caregiver, they are head of the household. In this case, there is an inherent influence that the grandparent has.

The grandchild usually considers both their mother, father and their grandparents as team parents. And although this can sometimes cause a power struggle among the adults, it does work for most families.

The Skipped Generation Household

The skipped generation household does not have adult children living it. The grandparents are the sole caregivers of their grandchildren. Two percent of the children in America are currently being raised by their grandparents.

Divorce Creates a Need for Childcare

Divorce can be disruptive in more ways than one. This is especially true if underage children are involved. It now takes two salaries to keep a family going. And when one of those salaries disappears, even with some child support, then an unfillable void is left.

This results in single parents moving back into their parents’ house. The single parent who’s working still needs childcare. That costs. A grandparent usually has the time to step in and provide for this need.

The Economics with Adult Children

The pandemic has had an impact on young adults. Because of the shrinking economy, many millennials between the ages of 24 and 39 have moved back with their parents. These millennials are bringing their children with them.

Although the parent is usually with them, the pressure of child rearing is still felt by the grandparent. The grandparent is head of the household. They do have an influence as to what happens in both teaching and disciplining a child. At times conflict can arise. This can create some stress, but most of the time, problems are worked out to the child’s benefit.

Substance Abuse Creates Need for Grandparents to Raise Grandchildren

In the 90s, we had cocaine, but now opioids are tearing apart families and destroying lives. There are numerous children abandoned and neglected by addicted parents.

Death is also a result of the crisis. Forty-seven thousand people died in 2018 from opioid overdoses. Many of these were parents of young children. A lot of these children would have ended up in foster care. But, because federal law requires placing children with relatives when possible, it’s usually the grandparent who steps in.

Grandparents are considered kinship care. This keeps the child out of foster care. In fact, for every child placed in foster care, 19 usually go and live with a grandparent. According to Generations United, around 4 percent of all children are in this type of kinship relationship.

Unfortunately, these grandparents do not have the financial support or child counseling services that foster parents are entitled to. They’re on their own.

Incarceration Forces Grandparents to Step In

Dovetailing on the explosion of opioid use, more and more mothers are going to jail. And since, in most cases, the mother is the primary caregiver, this is affecting children. In grandparent-lead households, children are six times more likely to have a parent in jail.

Half of the children that had an incarcerated mother ended up living with a grandparent. And of single fathers, one-tenth of children ended up with their grandparents.

This is not only difficult on the child but the grandparent. After all, it’s usually their adult child who’s been imprisoned. There is also a stigma when an adult child is imprisoned. This affects both grandparents and children.

Grandparents Rescue Children from Abuse and Neglect

When Child Protective Services is called in on a parent, the state may turn to the grandparents to place the child. Foster care is also an option, but since the state prefers a family member, the grandparent often is tapped for this role.

The Numbers for Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren are Rising

From 3 percent in the ‘70s to 7 percent in 2010, the rise of grandparents taking sole care of their grandchildren is rising.

There was a 16 percent increase for grandparents having custodial care between 2005 and 2010. And the march of adult children moving, with their children, into their parent’s home is also rising.

Does Raising a Grandchild Benefit the Child

Children benefit from being raised by their grandparents. The child often has more stability and safety with their grandparent. It also means that the child will have a greater tie with extended family and community.

Most grandparents are dug in. They’ve lived in one place for a while. They are sometimes living in the same house for a lifetime. This only helps bring continuity in a child’s life. Children don’t like change. And with a grandparent, they can enjoy the permanence they need.

Children living with grandparents tend to have better mental health and behavioral outcomes than those who don’t have the same opportunity.

What Can a Grandparent Do for Support

Think positive. As cliché as this seems, keeping a positive outlook is contagious to children. Everything is going to be ok. If there’s been a traumatic event that leads to this living arrangement, the child needs to know nothing more bad will happen.

Make it a point to take care of yourself. Both your physical and mental well being is vital at this point. Part of this is taking a break occasionally. Rely on family if you can. If you can’t, then make arrangements for childcare periodically.

Your grandchild’s previous life may have been chaotic and unstable. Make sure you have an established routine. It’s a little thing, but a child needs to know what’s going to happen next. No surprises.

How do Grandchildren Benefit Grandparents

Caring for grandchildren reduces depression in seniors. It’s also a good way to stay connected in the community. When you’re involved with school and soccer games, you’re forced to be out and about. This keeps a grandparent young.

Most grandparents find some positive increase in how they both physically and mentally feel.

Sharing life experiences as well as activities benefits both the grandchild and the grandparent. There’s a warm fuzzy feeling most children have with grandma and grandpa. This feeling works both ways.

Adverse Circumstances Contribute to the Need for Custodial Grandparents

Substance abuse, death, economics, divorce, and incarceration contribute to the trend of grandparents raising grandchildren. Grandparents are rallying and taking care of their grandchildren. These children benefit from the stability, security, and love that only grandma and grandpa can give.

Anne Johnson

Anne is both a writer and a Nana. She attended University of Akron and went on to have a career in television sales. She now writes and promotes the multigenerational lifestyle. Currently she resides in South Carolina with her husband, two cats, a horse and fabulous grands.

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