AARP News & Views: A second parenting: a look at grandparents raising gradchildren

“Once a parent, always a parent.” It’s a phrase used by many, but one that rings close to home for the 2.4 million grandparents in America who are the primary caregivers for their grandchildren. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Illinois alone, 6.6 percent of all children are living in grandparent-headed households.

The circumstances that lead to a grandparent assuming the role of parent—drugs, divorce, illness, imprisonment, abandonment—are often wrought with emotion for the grandparent. Grandparents often step into the role of parent, not expectedly, but because of a strong desire to maintain the family system in an often tumultuous environment. These grandparents never expected to enter into a “second parenting,” but do so with pride and a sense of responsibility for ensuring that their grandchildren have a stable environment and a bright future.

If you are a grandparent who is raising a grandchild, it’s important to know that you are not alone. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 4.5 million children in the U.S. are raised by their grandparents, and another 1.5 million are raised by other relatives. That represents a 30 percent increase in the number of children living in grandparent-headed households since 1990.

Isn’t grandparent caregiving reserved for “young” grandparents? No. One-third of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren are older than 64. More than one-quarter of these children are below the poverty line, and one in three have no health insurance.

Burdens of caregiving fall heaviest on those with limited means, but even better off grandparents find that providing care can eat into retirement savings, curtail long-awaited travel plans, and even require a return to the labor force. Strained finances are only one problem grandparents and other kinship caregivers have to confront. Others include insufficient housing, a lack of personal time, and legal barriers.

Whatever the situation, it is important to know there are resources available to assist grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. The AARP Foundation maintains the Grandparent Information Center—a source that provides information, referral, and outreach services to grandparent caregivers. For more information about the Grandparent Information Center, visit or call 1-888-687-2277. You can also e-mail the Grandparent Information Center at

Raising a child is hard, and raising a grandchild introduces a whole new set of challenges. AARP is committed to supporting the efforts of the 2.4 million grandparents who selflessly step in to ensure a bright future for 4.5 million children every day.

from the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2007, issue

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