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Grandparents with grandchildWhat 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 2007).



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 child.


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.


The parents

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.


Community response

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


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