The first Sunday after Labor Day is celebrated as Grandparents Day.
The purpose of this day is to take time to recognize grandparents for what they have done throughout history and to spend time gleaning any wisdom possible from their generation. I thought now would be a great opportunity to write about my grandparents and the millions of other grandparents who are the silent heroes of the opioid epidemic.
Growing up, my sister and I always felt like we were unique, and often at times felt very alone. No one else we knew was being raised by their grandparents. As a result, we experienced many years of struggling to explain our situation and working through our own traumas.
As I became an adult, looking back made me realize how unique and alone my grandparents must have felt.
One day they were enjoying their early 60s, and the next without hesitation, they agreed to become parents all over again to twin 9-year-old girls.
Grandparents raising their grandchildren face a lot of stigma and hardships with little support. While research is limited, it’s estimated that substance abuse is the leading reason behind grandparents getting custody of their grandchildren due to the overdose death of their child or continued struggle with substance abuse.
While children being raised by their grandparents is must more ideal than foster care, it does not come without its challenges.
They try to piece together the broken hearts of their grandchildren and navigate their trauma, all while hearing frightening stories about their own child. They try to gain the trust of children whose relationships with adults are associated with pain and fear. They try to parent children who don’t know how to receive instruction and criticism well. They put on a brave face as they navigate the school system for the first time in 40 years and attempt to help with homework. They try to navigate parental roles to children who have a skewed idea of what a parent is supposed to be. (which in my case having both of my parents still alive and around, was incredibly difficult.) They lose all their savings to support their grandkids and struggle to find any assistance.
They must take care of their own physical and mental health concerns, and now the physical and mental health of children in their care.
To some kids, Grandparents mean sleepovers, board games, cookies, and special visits from time to time. But to myself and millions of other kids, they mean safety, stability, love, shelter, healing, a second chance: they mean everything. The sacrifice of raising your grandchildren is a type of love that cannot be explained. In the words of my own Grandfather, “When we were approached, it was a major decision and somewhat scary, but it doesn’t take long to get into the flow of raising children again. It ends up being absolute delight- something I now can’t imagine being without.”
I feel privileged to have been raised by such loving people. The reality is that I likely may not have had the opportunities and accomplishments I do like earning a graduate degree or being the type of Mom that I am today without their guidance and sacrifice.
So, this year on Grandparents Day, I hope this article encourages you to take some time to recognize all of the grandparents out there who are raising their grandchild as their own.
If you’re a parent out there raising your grandchildren temporarily or permanently, I hope this article encourages you. You are giving them an opportunity of a lifetime!
By Shannon Schwarberg
Senior Program Manager, Special Project Development
Spectrum Health and Human Services