Grandparents as parents: social saviors or contributors to society’s decline?

The Pew Research Center reports that among parents with adult children in the U.S., 61% of them say they have helped an adult child financially in the preceding 12 months.  Among those who have helped an adult child financially, with errands, housework or home repairs, or with child care, nearly nine-in-ten (89%) say it is extremely rewarding.

The circumstances that leave children parentless are largely class and color blind.  According to Donna Butts, the executive director of Generations Unlimited, a national organization that promotes the interests of intergenerational families, approximately 28% of black children live with a grandparent with no parent present, compared to 24% of white children.  As a result, it seems we are faced with the “chicken” or “egg” paradox first proposed by philosophers in ancient Greece to describe the problem of determining cause and effect.  Are more and more grandparents raising their grandchildren because their own children were broken and damaged by society, or are grandparents raising their grandchildren because they themselves failed as parents?    While the problem seems that simple to some, it is not.  Some grandparents are literally forced into service as parents because of uncontrollable variables, such as death, incapacity, military service, and disability.  This article does not seek to judge those grandparents who serve as parents to their grandchildren.  Instead, it merely seeks to explore the three primary reasons for the conduct and encourage discussion on each.

  1. It is society’s fault that I raise my grandchildren: The list of social issues to explain a person’s poor behavior or why they experience worse than desirable circumstances are on the rise.  In his article 84 Examples of Social Issues, John Spacey contends the following are the “current problems and risks that represent a probability of future problems:”  Ableism; Access to Education; Addiction; Ageism; Air Quality; Animal Rights; Anti-Competitive Practices; Bullying; Child Welfare; Children’s Rights; Civility; Climate Change; Consumer Protection; Corporate Accountability; Cost of Education; Crime; Criminal Justice Reform; Cronyism; Culture Change; Debt Bondage; …well, you get the point.  Blaming society for one’s undesirable circumstances has become as popular as smart phones and pets.

Perhaps those people are correct.  Perhaps they are victims of a horrible society and unable to raise well-mannered children that provide for the health, safety and welfare of their grandchildren no matter how hard they try.  Afterall, society is certainly becoming increasingly secular and horrible every year.  Pamela Heisler, a project manager at Oregon’s department of human services says that over half the cases of child neglect are because of substance abuse and domestic violence.  Nudity and cursing in television programming and movies has become commonplace.  Rap music often includes the N***** word and emphasizes the need for possessions.  Country music rarely misses the opportunity to include alcohol in its lyrics.  Young ladies dress and act provocatively.  Young men are more interested in video games and sports than they are in learning manners and how to treat a lady.  Politicians seem more interested in re-election and spending money than preserving our nation’s historical customs and norms.  Society tells couples that their marriage is merely a legal contract that can be terminated by a judge.  Society encourages men and women to work more and in doing so trust others to raise their children eight or more hours a day.  And finally, society tells all of us that God and church are boring and not essential to a fulfilling life or an everlasting life hereafter.  Given these factors, what parent could be called upon to raise happy, healthy children today?

  1. It is my fault that I raise my grandchildren: But those grandparents that claim society caused the need to raise their grandchildren may have implicitly excused their child’s circumstances or contributed to the harm.  Perhaps their child is hooked on video games and television because those outlets served to babysit their children.  Perhaps their child is morbidly obese because they refused to limit their consumption or encourage a healthy diet.  Perhaps their child consumes drugs and alcohol because they themselves consumed drugs and alcohol throughout their youth and while parenting.  Some of today’s grandparents attended Woodstock and smoked weed with the Beatles and Grateful Dead when they were young.  Others were themselves heavy metal band fans and groupies or became card carrying members of the Ozzy Osbourne fan club and watched Ozzy bite the head off of a bat that may or may not have been alive while onstage at a concert in Des Moines, on January 20, 1982.  Still others spent like drunken sailors during the good times of the 1980’s and 1990’s and incurred overwhelming debt as a result.  Without realizing their actions, some grandparents went along with social deterioration and failed to guide or constrain the social behaviors of their own children. Now, they have no one to blame but themselves and they are left to try again with their grandchildren in hopes of protecting them from preventable drug use, alcoholism, debt and other social dangers.

  1. Uncontrollable variables caused me to raise my grandchildren: Finally, some grandparents are wonderful people who were just dealt a difficult hand.  Perhaps their child died in an accident or because of disease.  Perhaps their child was killed by a drunk driver or someone robbing a bank.  Still others lose children while serving in the military or because they were born with a health concern or mental illness.  These people should be applauded for stepping in and assuming the vital role of parent to their grandchildren.

The number of grandparents raising grandchildren is on the rise.  Sometimes the reason is societal.  Sometimes the reason is self-inflicted.  Still others are caused to raise their grandchildren by unforeseen variables.  Regardless of the cause, it appears that seniors should include the possibility of raising grandchildren as part of their estate planning and retirement forecasting.

Todd Miller is a monthly contributor and regularly writes and speaks on various legal topics including bankruptcy, estate planning, probate, and elder law.  He formed the Law Office of Todd Miller, LLC, 1305 Southwest Blvd., Ste. A, Jefferson City, Missouri in 2006.  He has been awarded the Substantial Contributor Attorney Award by the Missouri Bar and ranked as one of the “Top Attorneys in Missouri” by The Legal Network.  Mr. Miller earned his juris doctorate degree from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1999 and graduated with honors from Lincoln University in 1991.  You may find him at www.toddmillerlaw.com (573) 634-2838 or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.