What children think of being raised by their grandparents
Mary Gosche, Human Development specialist, Cape Girardeau County, University of Missouri Extension
Nontraditional families are no longer considered
uncommon in our society. One example of a nontraditional
family is children being raised by their grandparents.
In the past 30 years, the number of children raised by
their grandparents has doubled (Lugaila 2004). According
to the U.S. Census, 6.5 million or 9 percent of children
younger than 18 years old are living in a home that
includes at least one grandparent (Kreider 2007). Today,
at least 1.6 million children live with their
grandparents without either natural parent present (Kreider
Children are raised by grandparents because of
parental difficulties like substance abuse, prison,
physical abuse, neglect, abandonment, HIV/AIDS, mental
illness, divorce and death. In some situations, the
parent makes the decision to let the grandparent raise
the children. In other cases, however, a child welfare
agency or the police may be involved. Some grandparents
are named the child’s guardian or legally adopt the
What about the children?
Children raised by their grandparents are at an
increased risk for emotional and behavioral problems in
adulthood. Early in their lives these children have
experienced divided loyalties, rejection, loss, guilt
and anger. Many children feel disappointed and hurt by
their parents’ actions and lack of time spent together.
Parents have many different roles when grandparents raise their children and each situation is different. Some parents may have little rights to their child and contact may be illegal, while other parents may interact with their child on a daily basis.
The relationship between parents and children also differs with each situation. Many children distance themselves from their parents. Some adolescents may consider their mothers immature and selfish, and others feel like they are friends or confidants. In situations when fathers are out of the picture, girls often feel angry and boys often feel sad.
Many grandparents feel the parents are stuck in adolescence and have never grown up to take on their parental responsibilities.
The grandchild-grandparent relationship
Grandparents feel close to the children they are raising. However, the grandparent-grandchild relationship may be difficult when children have physical, emotional or behavioral difficulties. Timing is a factor, as children may have stronger bonds with their grandparents when they have lived with them for the majority of their lives.
Many children develop strong relationships with their grandparents and are grateful for their grandparents’ love and support. Many children say “their grandparents’ love and stability allowed them to succeed in school, stay out of trouble, develop strong morals, and religious values.” (Dobbin-MacNab 2009)
Children not only love and show affection to their
grandparents, but they emphasized the deep gratitude and
respect for their grandparents efforts in raising them.
The early adolescent did describe generation gap, strict
expectations and limitations of the age and health of
grandparents as challenges of the relationship.
Children raised by their grandparents have unique
needs that may require the use of therapists, school
counselors and health care providers. Classroom teachers
need to be aware of the child’s family background to
facilitate learning. Grandparents and grandchildren may
benefit from support groups and individual or family
therapy to share their feelings and gain support.
Dobbin-MacNab, M.L. & Keiley, M.K. 2009. Navigating
Interdependence: How Adolescents Raised Solely By
Grandparents Experience Their Family Relationships.
Family Relations 58: 162-175.
Kreider, Rose M. 2007. Living Arrangements of Children: 2004. Current Population Reports, 70-114. U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, D.C.
Lugaila, T., & Overturf, J. 2004. Children and the households they live in: 2000 (Census 2000 Special Reports, CENSR-14). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.
Last Updated 05/21/2009