Raising grandkids is hard. I know. I adopted my oldest grandson, Chad, after my daughter, his mom whom I’ll call Brandy, started abusing drugs and alcohol.
The saga started before Chad was born but turned critical at two and a half, when my daughter called crying, “Mom, I’m in jail.” I was so naïve I didn’t know anyone in trouble with the law, and certainly no one whose children were in state custody. Brandy was arrested after a neighbor reported bruising on Chad’s buttock and legs following a four-hour spanking by mom and her two, gay male roommates for whom she was a live-in nanny. The men pleaded guilty to fourth degree assault and then committed suicide before beginning their sentences.
Charges against Brandy were reduced due to lack of witnesses and she was given probation. Within a year, however, she stole from the family friend who defended her in court, was arrested on possession of a controlled substance while in the company of a paroled bank robber, and ended up in prison.
Meanwhile, I got custody of Chad and he lived with me for almost a year before his caseworker decided to place him with his birth dad, whom she described as having “alcohol and anger issues.” It took me eight months to prove that Chad was being physically abused, and shortly after his return, Chad was diagnosed with PTSD.
There simply isn’t space to write about everything that happened. Even after the state was no longer involved, I foolishly allowed my daughter supervised visits occasionally. What I didn’t know was that as Chad got older they talked late at night by phone. Brandy relapsed, when Chad began high school. Then Chad began cutting and turned suicidal.
It took years, outstanding counselors, family friends, spiritual mentors and a host of great teachers, coaches and prayers for Chad to work out what issues were his, and what were his biological parents. But by college, Chad was rock solid. When Brandy called the police making untrue and terrible accusations against him, he told her to, “Get out of mom’s and my life.” I agreed. I was done — for my sake, for Chad’s and for the rest of our family.
What I know for sure, as Oprah says, is that parenting grandkids (please don’t say raising because that defines your family as being different and hearing it your grandkids extrapolate that they don’t belong, you aren’t their parent, and you can’t understand them or tell them what to do) means their best interest supersedes any needs and desires of their parent. It’s okay for you and your grandchildren, to be happy even if your son or daughter is not.
Being a Grandfamily changes family dynamics and entangles family love stories; some stories won’t end happily but that’s not your fault. You are responsible for your choices. Everyone else has to own their choices and the consequences of those choices.
Love stories include your relationship with your spouse/partner. If partners won’t set, or honor, healthy boundaries you may have to make gut-wrenching decisions. Recently, an Oregon grandma said she’s contemplating divorce, a Kentucky nana told me her husband committed suicide leaving her with a shattered 7-year old who’s still reeling from his mom’s dying of an overdose. I’ve had a Vietnam Vet, with tears running down his face, explain that he has PTSD and having four grandsons under age five living with them triggers relapses so he leaves for blocks of times and feels guilty about abandoning his wife.
Sometimes, your other children resent the time and money being spent on their sibling and/or their sibling’s kids. They want a mom engaged in their problems as well as grandparents for their children; they want normal holidays, normal every days. They worry about your health, and they lecture when they tire of your complaints — or stop coming around.
Chad’s counselor once told me, “Feelings are facts.” Own yours. It’s okay to love, or not, your adult child or to admit that you don’t know how you feel. For years I said I loved Brandy but not her actions. Now, I know that I love the memory of the little girl I raised but not the adult she chooses to be. There are no right or wrong answers. Every family, every set of circumstances is different. It’s your family, your set of love stories, and your right to write your own endings.
You can contact Joan at (503) 722-8091; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.addictskids.com