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Unplanned Parenthood: When Grandparents are Parenting Grandchildren

Updated on December 21, 2016

From Robert Burns' poem To a Mouse, 1786. It tells of how he, while ploughing a field, upturned a mouse's nest. The resulting poem is an apology to the mouse...

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

"The best laid plans of mice and men..."

The reality is that the most carefully prepared plans can go wrong. This proves even more true in this journey we call life. All of the human efforts and energy poured into directing future outcomes often skew way off track. We throw our hands in the air, question why this happened and quickly forget that life is about choices and the consequences that follow.
I have learned over the years that God sees and knows all that I go through. So when my "unplanned parenthood" moment came, I was confident that He would be right by my side. I have long stopped reliving the circumstances that changed the plans I had in place for this season of my life. Wounds have been miraculously healed. Love has been extended. Life goes on. The focus is on providing the best for my grandson as I trust the Lord for the results.
This article's title was inspired by an amazing book, Grandparents as Parents, written by Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Elder Brown. As soon as I viewed the table of contents, I was hooked. I could totally relate to this idea of becoming a parent...again. The quote that opens chapter one sums it up perfectly:
"Becoming a parent again is not a first choice. It's a last alternative"
(Barbara Kirkland, Founder of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren)
So while the situation you find yourself in as a grandparent may not have been a long term goal or at the top of your bucket list, embrace the possibilities. Know that the love, guidance and support you provide today will make a world of difference in the lives of your most cherished possessions...your grandchildren.

Yes, something went wrong!

Toledo and Brown present a vital point in their book when it comes to how we view our situation as grandparents suddenly thrust into the role of parent. "Whether your grandchild lives with you because of drugs, death, military deployment, abuse, or abandonment, there are certain factors that are not responsible for this second parenthood, despite what people think." That struck a powerful chord with me because the mental struggle we face as we care for our grandchildren can be intense, even overwhelming at times.

It goes without saying that something went wrong if you are grand-parenting today. There are those on the outside looking in that place the blame on racial factors, socioeconomic status or your own failures as a parent. Assumption is the lowest form of education and individuals that focus on fault finding miss the opportunity to actually help because they are more interested in assigning blame.

Yes, something went wrong and here we are...unplanned parenting. One thing is certain, this can happen to anyone at anytime living anyplace in the world. Choices have consequences that are way beyond the control of man, so bad choices result in bad situations. As my pastor often says, "We agree that there is a hole in the boat. Let's not stand around arguing about who put the hole in the boat. Let's get to shore and discuss it when we are all safe and sound." So no more focusing on FAULT...focus on the FUTURE and let's keep it positive for the sake of our grandchildren.

Who kicked over the bucket?

Remember your bucket list? It was full of all the things you planned to do once your own children were grown and out of the house.

  • Caribbean cruise
  • Amtrak trip across America
  • Sleeping in late
  • Quiet walks in the park
  • Going back to school for that Masters degree
  • Remodeling the house
  • Starting a business
  • Taking up a hobby

WHO KICKED OVER THAT BUCKET? Everything changed and the challenges began when we came to the rescue of our grandchildren. Now we need a new routine. We face financial situations that are unpredictable. The focus of our social lives becomes a blur. The dynamics of our family relationships spin out of control. Legal, moral and emotional dilemmas rise to the forefront of our daily lives. Our dreams and plans for the future seem to die, or be placed on hold at best. The bucket list is replaced by a "reality check list" comprised of PTA meetings, youth soccer practice, trips to the pediatrician (or therapist), calls from the teacher, supervised visits from the parents, questions from the social worker...have I left anything out?

Now let's look for the silver lining in this dark cloud. If you believe in God, then you must believe in the promises found in His Word. A verse that is often quoted in times of crisis, but nobody ever wants it to apply to their situation, is one that I hold dear. After almost ten years of raising my awesome grandson, I can say for a fact that God keeps His promises.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."
(Romans 8:28)

Take heart grandparents....this situation will work out for good. Allow the love you have in your heart to flood your home. Allow it to shower down into the lives of those precious grandchildren. Set the bucket up and place some new, exciting dreams and goals in it. Either our glass is half empty or half full. I can promise you that it will not always be easy, but perspective is everything.

You are NOT alone...

I want to close out this article by pointing those who have experienced "unplanned parenthood" to at least once source of help. First of all you MUST purchase Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family by Toledo and Brown. Everyone of us has a different story. No two situations are the same. This book touches a variety of areas and there is something in it for everyone. I am not personally acquainted with the writers, but as a retired educator, I know a good resource when I see one.

At www.grandparentsasparents.org you will find out very quickly that you are NOT the only one dealing with "unplanned parenthood" and there is certainly strength in numbers. The organization is based in California, but you can find direction and help with just a phone call. As we stand in the gap for the lives and futures of our grandchildren, we do not have to do it alone. If there is no support group in your area, start one. Be the change you want to see around you. As we reach out and take the hand of another grand-parent, we gain strength in the sharing and find hope to get up each day and do what must be done.

Heroes standing in the GAP

Unplanned Parenthood Resources

I felt is was important to include a link to resources for those of us who are on Act II of the parenting narrative. You will find kinship care state fact sheets for grandparents and other relatives raising children. It provides information on state-specific data, public policies, and local resources and programs for kinship families.

Resources in YOUR State

FINAL WORD: As a product of the foster care system, I recall firsthand just how dark and devastating it can be to feel abandoned, alone and unloved. After aging out of the program, I was left to fend for myself. Like many of the foster children who turn 18 while still in the foster care system, I was unprepared and made a series of bad choices, many still affect my life today. By the grace and power of God, I am determined to see a different outcome for my grandson. I encourage my fellow "unplanned parenters" to do the same. Be determined. Reach out for help. Put some hope in that bucket of dreams. Never let 'em see you sweat...you got this. After all, this is not our first rodeo and the best is yet to come!

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    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 7 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for the encouragement to grandparents. Thanks also for sharing from your experience; your progress and your overcomer's attitude is an inspiration. You give hope where there might be despair. A beautiful message in a beautiful read.

    • Sonjia Upshaw profile image
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      Sonjia Upshaw 7 months ago from Richmond, Virginia

      Ms. Dora - Thanks so much for your encouragement. You certainly have the ministry of helps and are not hesitant to use it. That means the world to me as I strive to take what I learn from my situation and use it to encourage others. Be blessed!

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