Parenting Our Grandaughters, by Brenda Carpenter

Brenda 1

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!

Kayaking with Papa

Kayaking with Papa

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.

Brenda's grandaughters... sitting on a log.

Brenda’s grandaughters… sitting on a log.

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.

Brenda with her grandaughters

Brenda with her grandaughters

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.

Brenda's Grandaughters at Christmas

Brenda’s Grandaughters at Christmas

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:


What is it Like to Raise Your Grandchild? By Ann Faust Anderson


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.


Ann with grandson Brystol

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.

Related Links:

Facebook Groups:

Grandmothers Raising their Grandchildren

grandparents raising grandkids

Web Pages:

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren NZ:

“Grand Familes” USA:





Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Blog: