Kiera: Grandma, do you think I could call you mom?
Grandma: I know you miss your mom, honey.
Kiera: I’m just tired of explaining the whole thing to everyone.
Grandma: Kiera, you can call me whatever makes it easier for you.
At 53, DiDi DeWitt had just retired from community development work and was looking forward to a change. Then her neglected and physically abused 15-year-old granddaughter called, and DeWitt got all the change she could handle.
“My granddaughter was in a crisis and asked if she could come and stay. Of course, I said yes,” DeWitt says. “Now I feel like I’m in the army, I’m on a mission, and I’ve got to accomplish this mission. Everyday, I say ‘I have to get from here to there, and how do I get there, and who do I have to take out to get there?’ I’m a very good strategist.”
DeWitt is one of a growing number of U.S. grandparents who are dropping retirement plans of traveling, relaxing, or taking up a new hobby in order to care for a grandchild. According to the 2000 census, just over 6 percent of U.S. children are living with their grandparents. That’s 4.4 million kids—and 2.4 million grandparents. Some of these children’s parents are involved in the grandparent-led households; others aren’t around at all.
“There are a lot of reasons why this is happening,” says Dr. Mary Brintnall-Peterson, an aging specialist with the University of Wisconsin. “The social support system is really seeking out relatives as the safety net; most family members want to keep the care-giving in the family. There’s a variety of reasons why this [grandparents raising grandchildren] happens, but I look at drugs and alcohol addiction as the basic reason.
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