Grandparents: the unsung heroes of child welfare

This guest blog is written by Jennifer, a loving mother of one daughter who today is celebrating the strength and wisdom her grandmother brought to her life and how it changed the trajectory of her life.

My father was both mentally and physically abusive and my mother was an alcoholic. As such, they were deemed unfit to raise us. My story is so similar to the 425,000 children who are in foster care in the United States, but my grandmother is the reason that my story ends differently. Her generosity and compassion are what kept my childhood from breaking. Unfortunately, her presence in our lives wasn’t something I appreciated until I was older. Now, this is my time to say thank you over and over, to try and pay tribute to the woman who truly raised me and to all grandparents who are taking on the role of “mom and dad” to their children’s children.

Grandparents are often the unsung heroes in the world of child welfare, stepping up when parents have fallen down. In fact, according to a recent PBS documentary, right now in the United States, more than 2.9 million children are being raised by their grandparents and much of that is blamed on the growing addiction to opioids throughout our country. My story followed a similar path.

Growing up, my life was a facade. From the outside it looked normal. I had two parents, three siblings and we all lived together with my grandmother, in a house that I later learned, she paid for. My parents took the credit for the people that we became, but we all know better now. At the time, we saw how our father treated our grandmother and we followed suit. I saw her as a bother. She was blamed when we couldn’t do things that other families could do. I was an ignorant kid; I resented her. I never appreciated her, never said thank you. Thankfully, the veil was lifted by eighth grade and I understood the full scope of my life. I quickly learned that my grandma was the only one offering us support and comfort. Thinking back to those days, I am in utter awe of her. She cooked, cleaned, helped us with problems, was always there to console us and mend our boo-boos. While my parents were physically present, they weren’t invested, engaged or kind.

Looking back on my life, I realize that my experience and lessons learned contributed to making me the strong woman I am today. I no longer consider my childhood devastating. In fact, I was blessed with having had the honor to care for my grandmother in the last years of her life. Finally, I was able to give her something that she had given me for all those years, support and nurturing. I was able to pay tribute to her, not just by telling her I loved her but by being the caregiver to her that she was to me and my siblings. I was finally able, in a tangible way, to thank her for what she did for us all those years ago. I feel blessed now to be able to tell her story. My grandma showed us love, acceptance and necessary discipline. My parents criticized us; they cut with their words and broke down our spirit. She taught us to forgive so that the actions of someone else wouldn’t hold us hostage to the past. She was a faithful woman who would always say, “There’s something good in them, we just need to look harder.” Or “It’s not our place to judge, only God can do that.”

Had it not been for my grandma, my siblings and I would have been in foster care. We would have pulled away and acted out. We would have been labeled, “unadoptable.” Without her influence, we wouldn’t be the successful adults that we are now. Her love, devotion and commitment to our wellbeing are why I was able to raise a healthy daughter of my own.

She isn’t with us today, but I know she can hear me. Thank you, Grandma.