I find it interesting to learn how others have come to this place of “Parenting as a Grandparent”. Each story is unique and the daily path requires careful navigation. Here is our story.
I read a devotional this morning with the theme that “…as we walk the path of life, God gives us enough light for the step where we are…“. This is good. It helps me to focus on my day, not dwell in the past, or worry about the future. With that mindset, I share with you my parenting as a grandparent story.
No, they are sisters, not twins, although some call them “Irish twins”. They are less than a year apart. For 5 days each year they share the same number age. We celebrate that five day span of time with a beginning and an end of their birthday days. The younger one is slightly taller and slightly heavier than the older one, which is good because it evens out the playing field: “I’m the oldest!” “Well, I’m the biggest!” There. Argument solved. They are beautiful, happy, and full of energy. Both are afflicted with the family curse… ADD … not hyperactive, but extremely prone to distraction, disorder and lack of focus. They are articulate, never meet a stranger, and they dance, play the piano, and read… a lot!
We have found parenting the second time around to be much easier. We are stronger emotionally. We are financially secure. We have learned to live in the present … and accept each day as a gift. We don’t look to others to provide our happiness … we simply nurture the joy that their presence brings into our life. In the last 6 weeks we have logged over 5000 miles on a car trip through the southern United States. We hiked across desert paths to view ancient Indian writings and pose for pictures with 20 foot tall cactus. We gazed at the stars through research telescopes at a premier university observatory. We kayaked on Lady Bird Lake to watch thousands of Mexican Split-tailed Bats emerge for a night of insect hunting. We tent camped in the Smoky Mountains for a week and cooked our meals on a camp stove and told stories around a camp fire while we roasted marshmallows for Smores.
They love their daddy and the stepmother that he brought into their lives almost a year ago, but by mutual agreement they call our house their home. Our son has full legal custody of the girls and loves them dearly. It pains him that he does not come home to their hugs and giggles each evening, but at age 33, he has finally reached the point where he can effectively manage his own ADD and is establishing a career that allows him to be financially responsible for himself, enables him to help provide for the girls, and is allowing him to build a path for the future for all of them. We wish that his career opportunity put him to be closer to the girls on a daily basis. Some people would look at the situation and think that he should take the girls to live with him now that he has managed to stabilize his life; he would love to do that, however, he has made the much harder decision to let them continue to live the life that we cobbled together during his 10 years of struggle and chaos before he reached this place of maturity in his own life.
I am 58 years old. My husband of 40+ years just turned 60. We have been in this child-raising place as full time co-parents to our to our son’s two daughters now for almost five years; that is when their mother walked out of their lives. For the most part is was an easy transition. We had seen the proverbial “writing on the wall” that their family unit was not likely to survive unless some serious life changes were made. Their mother likely suffers from bi-polar issues, but she refused treatment. She loved the girls, and for a few hours each week, she would be a “good mother”; but she found it difficult to maintain the endurance and discipline needed to care for her children and home. She found it easier to sleep, socialize with friends and escape with substance abuse than to deal with toddlers.
After we discovered that she was leaving the girls with random friends or taking them along to inappropriate social settings we developed an open door policy regarding “baby-sitting” and soon each of the girls had a bedroom, toys, and clothes at our house. Our son, their dad, was so emotionally attached to her that he took a while to really see and accept the destructive behavior of his sweetheart and the mother of his beautiful girls. However, he wanted the girls to be protected and so he reluctantly allowed them to be with us while he worked and went to school. At first, he picked them up to go home with him when he was at home; but as the marital relationship deteriorated he left them with us more and more frequently. And so the girls spent a lot of time at Nana and Papa’s house and when she left they hardly noticed she was gone.
One of the most difficult decisions we have faced has been how to deal with the Momma relationship issue. After a while, the girls began to ask questions. By this time they had reached the point they were learning about behavior, choices, and consequences and so our answer would be, “Sometimes we make decisions that hurt other people. I am sorry your Momma’s decisions are painful to you…but remember, your daddy loves you and we love you. Would you like a hug?” Hugs can fix a lot of emotional issues.
For the most part, the transition has not been too painful for them. All of us made the decision that we would never be negative and blaming toward their mom. It has taken a lot of discipline, but we have managed to leave a space for the girls to develop their own coping mechanism for dealing with their mother’s decisions. For a while after she left, their Mom would call, sporadically. She would tell them that she loved them and would always promise that she would call again the next day. A promise that she never kept. It is painful to tuck crying 6 and 7 year olds into bed at night “because they want to stay up for Mama’s phone call.” The last call that we answered she was either drunk or high and she wanted to read them a story for bedtime … a totally inappropriate horror story. After their Dad remarried, the girls announced that the new wife was “Momma”. They refer to their birth mom by her first name. This decision was totally of their own devices and announced by them. The time may come when they seek a relationship with their birth mom. But for now they seem confident and secure in their relationship with their Dad, Momma (step), and Nana and Papa.
And so, this is my life. It is not what I had planned when I retired from teaching five years ago. It is not what I had imagined for my baby boy when I rocked him to sleep 30+ years ago. I went through a period of blame. I failed as a parent. But parenting is fluid and there comes a time when you have to realize that you are only responsible to provide children the opportunity to develop skills to make good decisions and sometimes “people make decisions that hurt other people.” My life is different than what I had planned … but the difference is good. I have enough light to see today.
Many thanks to Brenda Carpenter who wrote this story especially for “The Forever Years”
See also, on “The Forever Years”, Ann Faust Anderson’s Story about Raising her Grandson, as well as links to helpful sites and groups for Grandparents Raising their Grandchildren: