By Roz Edward
The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.
A few years ago, while sitting on my porch in Detroit, I was surprised to see two little kids, a boy and girl who appeared to be five and four respectively, marching up the street with remarkable resolve, as if they were on a mission. I questioned the two about where they were going with such determination, and the boy fired back that his bike had been stolen by a kid in the neighborhood and he was going to get it back.
I suggested he leave that task to his mother when he replied, “My mother is in jail.” Trying not to appear fazed by the response, I continued with my line of questioning and asked that he let his grandmother take charge of getting the bike returned. His answer floored me; “She’s pregnant,” he said matter of factly. She was 46. I continued with my inquiry and finally got to the crux of the matter; his great grandmother was the primary caregiver in that multigenerational household. She was 63.
Survey after survey bears out what most Americans already know: family and household compositions have changed over the decades, and continue to do so at an increasingly rapid rate.
Grandparents’ role in the family hierarchy is increasingly becoming that of primary caregiver as the number of multigenerational households grows. A 2021 report published by Generations United found that more than one in four Americans are living in a household with three or more generations.
But when you are 60-year-old head of a multigenerational household, which may include toddlers and teens, it can be difficult to accomplish a healthy balance to support the welfare of caregivers and those they care for.
“I love being a grandmother who has been strongly involved in raising my grandchildren,” says Lou Vera “Mitzy” Smith, grandmother of five and great grandmother of eight. “I love and adore them, but I do regret not having spent more time cultivating my personal life during the time I chose to dedicate myself fully to caregiving,” admits Smith.
When elders and older adults are immersed in the daily demands of raising children, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of neglecting themselves and losing sight of the fact that caregiving is not their sole purpose in life. It’s vital that grandparents and caregivers take care of themselves physically and emotionally to positively experience these evolving roles in life. In short, making your own care a priority is essential to stave off feelings of regret, resentment and generally feeling overwhelmed.
The following resources can help caregivers protect their physical, mental, social and financial health and find ways of supporting their grandchildren while keeping the promise and their hopes for their golden years intact.
There are countless federal, state and local programs available to seniors and family caregivers. Even benefits or services that aren’t directly related to elder care can reduce financial strain and help a caregiver carve out time for respite.
The Supporting Grandparents Raising Children Act of 2020 passed the U.S. Senate and is now with the U.S. House of Representatives for review. The legislation established an advisory council to support grandparents raising grandchildren and helps with identifying and promoting information and resources, to help grandparents meet the needs of the children in their care while maintaining their own physical and and emotional well-being.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs)
AAAs provide information, assistance and referrals to community services for seniors, individuals with disabilities and family caregivers.
AARP Caregiving Community Forum
In-person and online caregiver support groups are available in all 50 states and are an excellent way to connect and share with other people regarding resources and advice.