His name is Brystol. He has never had a responsible parent. He is beautiful, smart, and above all else charming. He is four years old. I am often asked questions about the grandson I am raising. The question I am asked most often is “Why do you have him?” followed quickly by some version of, “What is it like to raise your grandchild?” The reason I have custody of him is important to him and to me and as an explanation of some of his behaviors. The joy and difficulty of raising him is of interest to many.
I began raising him when he was four weeks old; I was 65. My sons were all grown, I had a full time job as a teacher. Since neither parent was able to take on the responsibility of parenting a baby, I was asked to take on that responsibility. I gladly accepted.
The moment I held him, he held my heart. From birth he was a sweet baby. Because of circumstances surrounding his birth, he was not a pretty baby. He had (still has) 5 cowlicks making his hair stick out from what seemed to be a hundred different places. He was unable to hold his tongue in his mouth, and he was very skinny. One physician pronounced him “one step from being a funny looking kid syndrome.” With the exception of the cowlicks all of those things changed. He only slept when being held. The first weeks home from the hospital, the only time he slept was when wrapped tightly in a blanket and in my arms. The sleep patterns caused our first problem. Since he only slept when held, I was getting very little sleep. Lack of sleep made for one very tired surrogate parent. Thankfully, this phase only lasted 8 weeks.
I looked up research and read everything I could find on possible problems Brystol would or could have because of his parents’ choices. All research pointed to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder,) anger issues, and possible learning problems. I immediately began preparing for those to arise: I felt that being prepared could help to prevent some of the predicted problems. Enriching his environment was imperative, in my opinion. Of course, I had many different items to enrich his visual environment. Since everything pointed to the importance of language, I talked to him nearly nonstop. I explained everything that was going to happen and what was happening. Yes, all my friends thought I had lost my mind explaining things to a 6 week old baby. He was allowed to choose his clothing, foods, and playthings. I believe that as a direct result of loving him unconditionally, enriching his environment, and giving him an abundance of language, it was evident very early that he was above average in intelligence.
Because I worked full time and had a new person to care for, I had to become an organized person. Much of the research I read indicated that organization and routine would be very important to assist in controlling his ADHD. I thank Brystol for the organization skills I learned at 65 years of age.
At seven months of age, Brystol went to live with his mother. She refused to give him any structure in his life and repeatedly said that I had stifled him with all my structure. He began to show some anger issues. His mother continued to have difficulties and at 10 months, he was given back to me. While still showing sweetness as his disposition, ADHD and anger issues were becoming apparent. If he was told, “No.” for any reason or given more structure than he wanted, he would back into a door or the wall and scream at the top of his lungs. I learned to turn my back without comment and walk away until he stopped screaming. As soon as the screaming stopped, I was there to talk to him and love him and explain that the screaming would never get him what he wanted. It took about 6 months to get the behavior completely under control, but he does not scream to get his way now.
It was about this time that his mother (who had asked me to take Brystol) became very angry that I had him. She broke into my home, stole money and belongings, broke all of the windows in my son’s truck, and slashed my tires. She would stand on a chair and bang on my windows until someone came to stop her. The ugly voice mails and text messages were too numerous to count. This behavior caused the most difficult and stressful time for Brystol and me. An emotional roller coaster is not good for anyone, but when a child has ADHD and anger issues, it can be far worse.
I did not want Brystol to see my anger at his mother, nor did I want her issues to influence him. She finally received a 7 month jail term and our lives simmered down. During her time in jail, the Department of Human Resources who handled Brystol’s case, went to court with us to give me full physical custody and shared legal custody with my son. This decision gave us a more secure feeling where Brystol was concerned. His ADHD problems were very evident by this time and anger issues were arising on occasion.
After his mother was released from jail, her anger at me became worse. It was very difficult. After his supervised visits with his mother, Brystol would return angry at everyone. He would cry, refuse to cooperate, have complete meltdowns that included breaking toys, and screaming at me. I learned to pick him up (no matter the amount of protest) hold him close, and talk softly to him telling him that I would always love him. As he calmed down, I would explain that the behavior he was showing would not be tolerated. At this time, I began to use a behavior management technique I learned in college. It worked beautifully, and Brystol’s anger issues at this time are those of a typical 3 or 4 year old.
Just before he turned 4 his mother passed away. I talked with a counselor who gave me wonderful advice on how and what to tell him. He does not understand the meaning of dead, but he knows that he doesn’t see her any more. He has had questions about not seeing her, but was okay with the situation. He did ask me if he could live with me forever now that he wasn’t going to have to live with his mother ever. He still sees her family. His anger issues seem to be even less now than they were. His ADHD is another issue.
I honestly don’t realize his ADHD is a problem until we are in large open areas or he is around children who do not have ADHD. I am still having to condition myself not to allow him to do certain things because while what he wants to do isn’t a problem at home, it may be a problem in the pre-k classroom, church, or while visiting others. Remembering to watch for things that can cause problems in other areas has become a priority for me. In order to become a productive member of society, it will be necessary for Brystol to know how to follow rules and get along with others. It is my job to see that he has the skills to do this.
The job of raising Brystol has brought many joys to my life and a few problems. The problems have caused me to look inward and change some of my methods and ways of thinking; it has all been for the better in both of our lives. I do worry that as a senior citizen raising a preschooler, there will be problems because: 1. His “mother” is old 2. He will be embarrassed by my age one day 3. I might miss things that younger mothers would pick up on 4. As he gets older, he will realize he can get things over on me 5. That I will pass away before he has the skills he needs. I do not dwell on any of these things because Brystol keeps me busy loving him and enjoying him.
“The Forever Years” would like to thank Ann Faust Anderson for agreeing to share this story with us. We wish her and her grandson Brystol all the best for the future. Below are some links about grandparents raising their grandchildren, some of which are to support groups.
Grandmothers Raising their Grandchildren
grandparents raising grandkids
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren NZ: http://www.grg.org.nz/
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Blog: http://www.grandparentingblog.com/