The relationship between a child and their grandparents is very special. Oftentimes a grandparent is a safe place for a child; where they can go to get spoiled with love and sweets. Then they are sent back to their parents who have to deal with the sugar rush. However, it is becoming increasingly common that grandparents are having to step into the role of primary caregiver creating a grandfamily.
September 11th is Grandparent's Day and we want to take this opportunity to highlight our next speaker, Beth Jester. Beth Jester found herself in the situation of having to step up and raise her grandchildren, but what she didn't find was any resources to help her. So she created them.
Now Beth has created a Support Group for grandfamilies and has even written a children's book entitled We Live with Nana and Grandpa to show her children and other children who are being raised by their grandparents that they are not alone. We are honored to host Beth this month to discuss the unique challenges that grandfamilies endure and how she has learned to overcome them. We sat down with Beth to get a little taste of all of the wisdom and hard earned knowledge she will be sharing with us in the webinar.
If you are a grandparent raising your grandchildren or a provider who works with grandfamilies and recognizes the importance of understanding their unique needs click the button to sign up today!
"My husband and I have had our grandchildren now for 6 years. They were 4 months and 2 and a half years old when we got them. Their parents had struggled with addiction. After my grandson was born they both picked up again unfortunately with the addiction. They were in another state and we had to go down and get them. We went down and got them about 4 different times." said Jester.
When asked about gaining custody of her grandchildren Jester explained: "By law, you can get them medical help without custody, but it was difficult enrolling them in school and everybody asks you right away. They know you’re a grandparent they can see that you aren’t a parent-aged person. Everyone asks for custody upfront. When we went to get custody of the children we didn’t know where to go. We had no idea where to even start and we had no peers to ask what to do. We went to our local bar association for help and she charged us 5k upfront and we didn’t leave know anything different. She couldn’t get custody because they were in a different state. She kept the money and was no help. My husband had to fly to the state they were in and find them and get them to sign the papers because there are a lot of things you can’t do without custody. Now in retrospect, I’ve heard this story over and over again."
Because of the unique needs of grandfamilies we created a tip sheet for providers to help them understand the services they need as well as the challenges they bring to the situation. In order to ensure the information shared was relevant we spoke to grandparents raising their grandchildren from around the state. When speaking with them we heard over and over about the wide array of emotions that hits you all at once. We asked Jester about this and she couldn't agree more. "It's hard to realize that this is the reality of your new life. It’s sudden. It doesn’t sneak up on you. It’s traumatic. Let me think of all the words; shocking, life-altering, exhausting. The guilt would come and go. It was also mourning the life you thought you had and now you know that’s over. It’s not what you had envisioned for this chapter of your life. It is not what we expected. You’re not amongst your peers, your friends and neighbors - you’re alone in what choice you have made." said Jester.
"You just don’t have any peers. When you are a young parent you have a lot in common with your neighbors and your friends and you all hang out together. I kind of felt like we are in a position that widows are in. You always hear that when someone's spouse dies other couples stop asking them to go places. All my friends and family meant well but in reality, everyone has their own lives and people move on. You aren't just a couple anymore." said Jester. This feeling of isolation had Jester in search of other grandfamilies. She wanted to speak with and bounce ideas off of other people who understood the situation she was in. Her first thought was to find a support group that she could attend, so she began her search.
It was a lengthy search that pretty much led her nowhere. "I looked all over my county and I couldn’t find one. I mean I called for several months everyone I could think of. People kept sending me to other people." said Jester. "I went to a function through this State Representative that had speakers from Penn State studying grandfamilies. I ran into a woman that I knew when I was a young mom in my 20's and we both asked the other why we were there but we knew. Together we started the support group we both needed. She has since left because of personal reasons and I am running it by myself, although I don’t hesitate to ask other members for help here or there."
"We began in the spring of 2019 and by our first year, we had 25 families represented so we found out it was a really big need. We had 3 speakers that spring and 3 in the fall. We found another group in Chester county and spoke with the leader there and we followed what they did because they had been out there for 10 years. We operate from March-May and September-November. The leader of the Chester county support group told us that grandfamilies are busy with camps, vacations, etc. in the summer and over the winter it’s more difficult to get people to come out." said Jester.
"We meet at Lenape Valley Church; we are a support group of the church. We start out in prayer and then we have a time when I give out resources and announcements and upcoming events. Then we go around 1 person at a time and share briefly about our lives and how we came to be a grandfamily. If someone is in crisis, meaning they are brand new to this or they are struggling with something that has occurred, we give them extra time. I have a resource book that I leave on the table and they can take pictures of what they need. A grandparent will explain a challenge they are having and I will point to a resource in the book that may help them. Everything from Medicaid, to preschool subsidies, and so much more." said Jester.
"The top concerns discussed in our support group include; finances, respite needed because of the exhaustion day in and day out and its hard to ever find time for a break or normalcy, and support in general," said Jester. Support is one thing that a grandparent can expect when attending one of their meetings. "To support each other the grandparents share stories of how they have been in the same place as the person asking for advice and they tell the group what they did in that situation. We don’t tell people what to do we tell them about our personal experiences or resources available for them pertaining to what they share. I encourage them to share contact information so they can support one another in between meetings."
This connection is not just vital for the grandparents but also for the grandchildren. When they are talking to their peers at school it is harder to relate to them because most of them are being raised by their parents. "Our meetings include meals and babysitting. All of them know the other kids there are raised by their grandparents and they can just have fun together. For the grandparents it’s nice that they don’t have to cook a meal. It’s one thing off their very full plate. We have a grant so there is no charge for the meals. We have the deacons at our church serve the meals and do whatever we need. It’s important for support and resources and camaraderie. We are not alone and neither are the kids." said Jester.