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Grandparents are parents again

Hagerstown has support group for those raising their children's children

Hagerstown has support group for those raising their children's children

February 28, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

When Gloria Coyle would daydream about her retirement years, she imagined traveling, doing volunteer work and going back to college.

Instead, at the age of 57, she's raising her two grandchildren.

She cooks their meals, washes their clothes, takes them to their music lessons and helps with their homework.

She worries when they get a cold and prays for their well-being every night.

Coyle has been caring for her 6- and 8-year-old granddaughters for the past four years.

She's not alone.

According to 2007 statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, about 6.7 million children in the United States are being raised by grandparents. That's about 1 in 12 children and about 10 times the number of children in the foster-care system.

Locally, more than 1,000 grandparents are raising their grandchildren, said Ruth Brown of the Washington County Commission on Aging.

Many have legal custody, while some have gone the adoption route, she said.

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The reasons vary, from broken families and single teenage mothers to child abuse and drug addiction. There also is the difficult circumstance of parents who have died.

Regardless of the situation, these grandparents share common challenges, Brown said.

"And, sometimes, they just don't know where to go for the answers," she said.

About three years ago, the Commission on Aging began to see a spike in the number of older residents raising their grandchildren, Brown said.

"So we took the initiative, received a grant and started the Grandparents As Caregivers Support Group," she said.

The group is part of the National Family Caregivers Program and meets at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the commission's office at 140 W. Franklin St. in Hagerstown.

The purpose of the group is to provide support and education to grandparents who are the main caregivers to their grandchildren, said Brown, who serves as program coordinator.

"We discuss community resources and try to address questions and concerns," she said. "But it's also an opportunity for people to know they're not alone in dealing with parenting issues the second time around."

Brown said the meetings usually include speakers who address a wide range of topics - from legal matters and finances to tackling behavior problems.

But she also tries to incorporate some fun. On one occasion, Brown brought in a masseuse. Recently, the grandmothers were treated to a day of pampering at Award Beauty School in Hagerstown.

"We wanted to do something special for them," she said. "They do so much for others. It was nice to do something for them."

Brown said those attending the support group meetings often tell her how appreciative they are to have a place to go where everyone understands the responsibilities and issues they face as caregivers.

"We all try to help each other out," she said. "We get together, sit around a table and hash out whatever is on our minds. And along the way, we've become friends."

"It feels good to support each other," said Coyle, a Washington County resident who adopted her granddaughters. "We give each other encouragement and we're there for each other. It's been a wonderful experience."

Coyle said she lived in Montgomery County, Md., before moving to this area and would have loved to have had a support group to help her through those early days of becoming a guardian to her grandchildren.

"It would have saved me a lot of grief," she said. "That's why I encourage anyone who is raising their grandchildren to take advantage of what this group can offer."

Coyle said the support group has been a lifeline.

"When you're a grandparent, and you're raising your grandchildren, all of a sudden you feel disconnected," she said. "You feel left out of a circle that you once belonged to. With this group, I'm connected with other grandparents who understand my life."

Coyle said she is the mother of two grown children and never thought she would be raising her grandchildren.

"But I wouldn't have had it any other way," she said. "They're a part of me. They're my family. I would never have allowed them to go into the system."

Coyle said she always had looked at her retirement years as a time to see the world or go back to school for that degree she never had time to pursue.

"But God had other plans for me," she said. "You just have to let your life unfold the way He sees it."

Coyle said raising her granddaughters has been a special experience - one that gives her a sense of fulfillment.

"Every day, my husband and I see the girls growing and flourishing," she said. "It gives us a real sense of pride."

"It also keeps me young," she said. "I have more energy than I thought I did."

Coyle said she still is looking forward to traveling.

"But I don't know about college," she said.

Dr. Kevin Geis, a local child and adolescent psychologist, said it's a difficult job for grandparents who are caregivers.

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