‘GrandFamilies’ group emerges to address family crises

Posted 10/23/19

The group that gathered at Chimacum Creek Primary on the evening of Oct. 16 was not new to the challenges of second-time parenthood, but they hadn’t expected those impacts to hit them as hard as they have.

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‘GrandFamilies’ group emerges to address family crises

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The group that gathered at Chimacum Creek Primary on the evening of Oct. 16 was not new to the challenges of second-time parenthood, but they hadn’t expected those impacts to hit them as hard as they have.

“I raised six kids before,” one woman said. “Why is it so hard for me to raise two little ones now?”

Of course, as she herself acknowledged, she was in her 20s the last time she was raising grade school-aged children, whereas now, she’s raising the children of her own adult children.

Oct. 16 was the first official meeting of the “GrandFamilies” of East Jefferson County, a new group that plans to meet on the third Wednesday of every month, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Chimacum Creek Primary.

Roughly a dozen grandparents who are now acting as parents to their own grandchildren were met by Jenny Vervynck, a behavior intervention specialist who’s worked with both the Chimacum and Port Townsend school districts.

While an art and play therapist kept the kids busy in the school library, the grandparents gathered in the cafeteria to share their stories of returning to parental roles that many of them had assumed they were done with.

Grandmothers admitted to feeling like “failures” for not having as much energy as they had when they’d raised their own children, even as they acknowledged that this was simply a function of the intervening decades catching up with them.

“You think of these as your golden years,” one woman said. “But instead of sitting up at night and watching British people solve murder mysteries on PBS, I’m stuck watching Spongebob Squarepants,” she laughed.

“My friends are all, ‘Did you see this or that TV show?’” another woman agreed. “And I’m like, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t get to watch adult TV.”

As Morgan Hannah of the Olympic Angels support group arrived, the grandparents turned more serious, as they addressed the underlying practical concerns of their newly restored roles as parents.

Because a number of the grandparents are raising small children due to their own adult children falling prey to the opioid epidemic, they’ve had to navigate complicated legal waters on questions as mundane as whether they’re allowed to vaccinate their kids, or take trips with them out of state.

“It can happen with a phone call,” one woman said, of finding out that she was now her grandchild’s guardian. “I was in shock, because I’d never been involved in ‘the system’ before, and I had no idea what my rights were. I didn’t even know if it was okay to hire a babysitter.”

A number of these grandparents-turned-parents are receiving Social Security and living on fixed incomes, which has made the assistance of agencies such as Olympic Angels invaluable to them.

Vervynck and Hannah want other “GrandFamilies” to know that they can be connected to resources ranging from discounted groceries to free-and-reduced-price children’s clothing, and even funding for rent, utilities and transportation-related expenses.

“A lot of folks who make use of the clothing closets we connect them to also wind up giving back to them, because kids outgrow clothes so fast,” Hannah said.

“I got help buying a hot water heater,” one woman said.

Even with those resources, “GrandFamilies” often face further obstacles, in the form of the traumas that their grandchildren sustained before they came under their grandparents’ care.

“A lot of times, they’ve been impacted by their parents’ addiction issues,” one grandmother said. “It’s a delicate thing. You don’t want them to think bad things about their parents, because they might start thinking bad things about themselves.”

“For a while, all I could tell the kids was, ‘Momma went camping,’” another grandmother agreed.

In some cases, the grandchildren came into their grandparents’ care only after spending some time in the foster system.

The good news is when grandparents are able to connect with needed resources and develop informed partnerships with caseworkers to ensure the children’s needs are being met.

“We’ve taught each other a lot through this process,” one grandmother said. “If you’re in this situation, please know that you’re not alone.”

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