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The Golden Years: Raising your grandchildren

By By Kathy Jacobs
For the Sunday Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In the movie “Father of the Bride, Part II,” Steve Martin’s character accompanies his wife, played by Diane Keaton, to an appointment with her gynecologist/obstetrician.

The couple had just realized they would soon be empty-nesters, with one child married and another about to finish middle school.

Surprisingly, they discover they are expecting another child.

As Martin tries to grasp the news, remarking that he is about to become a grandfather and pointing out that between the two of them they are almost a hundred years old, he says, “Things like this do not happen to men my age.” And the doctor replies, “Come on. Picasso had children well into his 70s.”

After a few minutes of disbelief and incessant talking, Martin’s character faints.

Whether women find themselves expecting a child as they approach the golden years, or suddenly become the primary caretakers of their grandchildren, or decide to hold off having children in order to promote their careers, many women, according to a report in Psychology Today, are committed to waiting until their 50s (choosing to freeze their eggs) to start a family, asserting that they will be more financially secure and able to dedicate more time to their children.

The facts that people are living longer and are in better health as they age add to the belief that later is better.

A recent study at Boston University School of Medicine reported that “women who gave birth to children after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than those who did not.” Now that’s something worth thinking about; although, when I mentioned it to my husband, his raised eyebrows spoke volumes.

Naturally, there are risks to having children later in life.

“After 40, the risk of having a child with autism increases by 30 percent for men and 50 percent for women. Advanced parental age is also associated with miscarriage, childhood cancer, autoimmune disease and schizophrenia and other neuropsychiatric disorders,” according to Isabel Blumberg, OG/GYN at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

However, studies indicate that donor eggs (which are usually young eggs) or egg freezing among over-45 parents show a low risk of Down syndrome.

And just as the reason to postpone having children varies, so it is for the approximately 3 million grandparents (a number that is consistently increasing) who find themselves raising their grandchildren by default.

Many of those grandparents, of course, expected their golden years to be a time to relax a bit, perhaps travel a little, and enjoy the fruits (however meager they may be) of their labors.

The reasons for leaving them sole guardians vary: financial struggles on the part of their children, incarceration of a parent or parents, divorce, illness, substance abuse, death of the parents.

If you find yourself living the golden years with children to raise, remember that children still like to do many of the same things their parents enjoyed as children. Reading to a child, attending their sporting events, and even learning computer skills with them will enhance your new parental responsibilities.

Also remember to seek out plenty of support through schools, libraries and church functions. Free information for grandparents raising their grandchildren can be found through AARP’s Grandparent Information Center, where you can sign up for their newsletter. Check out their website at www.aarp.org/relationships/grandparenting.

Another great source for information can be found at www.childwelfare.gov; type “grandparents raising grandchildren” in the search box.

While raising children as a young parent is challenging, raising your grandchildren as you approach the golden years can be even more challenging. And while your physical stamina might not be as strong, “hanging out” with kids is always a great way to stay young at heart and young in mind.

Although stress, worry, anger and grief may accompany these responsibilities, knowing that you are helping to keep the family together and giving your grandchildren a sense of security will outweigh the challenges of raising the next generation.

In the process, remember to take care of yourself too, with the right nutrition and physical and mental exercise.

Tom and Christy Ramsey, of Montgomery, have been very instrumental in helping to raise their grandchildren. “One of the biggest challenges for me has been to try to fill in the gaps, especially to give my grandsons a sense of family, faith and gathering,” Christy said.

“Today, with low wages, expenses and job stresses, parents sometimes have trouble taking care of everything. For me, love is the answer — as God would do. Give them as much love as you can and try to live an example of God’s love in your life at all times.”

Whether you find yourself embracing the joys and challenges of a beginner parent as you enter your golden years or assuming the primary responsibility of raising your grandchildren — unexpectedly or not — the very notion of being responsible for, caring for and nurturing the future still holds a position of the highest value, a position that has the potential to garner tremendous return on investment.

Kathy Jacobs is a former Catholic high school teacher and college educator whose written work has appeared in regional publications as well as in Writer’s Digest and on the op-ed pages of The Charleston Gazette. She holds a master of arts degree in humanistic studies and writes about topics of interest to senior citizens and their families. Jacobs can be reached by email at kjacobswv@gmail.com.


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