Taking the grand out of grandparenting

Sunday, October 2, 2005

Each year, more grandparents in Southeast Missouri find themselves raising grandchildren.

There are days when Betsy Howard just wishes she was a little younger.

After raising her own three children and four others who were not her own, the 63-year-old Charleston, Mo. woman took in her three grandchildren.

That was about a decade ago. Two of them, ages 16 and 18, still live with Howard and her husband.

Howard's situation is one that has become more prominent in Southeast Missouri and throughout the rest of the state in recent years. As of the 2000 census, 77,857 children were being raised by grandparents in Missouri.

In Cape Girardeau County, 392 children lived with grandparents or other relatives and in Scott County that number was 372.

"Always in our society we have had a tradition of families staying together. In some multi-generational situations, grandparents take responsibility of raising grandchildren even if the parents are present," said Barb Mayfield, chair of the of the Kinship Care Network of Southeast Missouri.

"The reason it's becoming such a concern now and the numbers are growing is because of drug usage, which ends up in incarceration of parents," said Mayfield.

Divorce, death and even the war in Iraq are also factors.

"In the traditional sense, we think about grandparents who at 55 or 60 has planned for their retirement, then suddenly they become responsible for grandchildren," said Mayfield. "The financial strain would be obvious to anybody."

Money has always been one of Howard's biggest concerns when it comes to raising her grandchildren.

"Whatever I have to do, I have to do it. If somebody doesn't get paid one month, they just don't get paid," said Howard. "When kids get to be teenagers, they need their egos stroked. It's hard to say no, that will have to wait until next month."

Finances is only one strain on grandparents though, said Mayfield.

"There are emotional factors. Just having the energy and stamina required to raise a child," said Mayfield.

There are also medical issues. Grandparents who raise their grandchildren tend to have additional stress and fatigue, which leads to higher blood pressure and cholesterol as well as a higher incidence of diabetes.

"It all sort of snowballs into a fairly large complex issue," said Mayfield.

The Kinship Care Network, which partners with the local Area Agency on Aging, local churches, health care workers and other community organizations, offers support and education to grandparents.

On Tuesday, the network and AARP are holding a free conference from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for grandparents that includes information on legal matters, behavior management, financial aid and other lifestyle-related issues. The keynote speaker is Amy L. Goyer, program coordinator for the national AARP Grandparent Information Center in Washington, D.C. Child care is available.

The conference will be held at Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau. To register, call the Community Counseling Center at 334-1100 and leave your name, address and phone number in a message at extension 215, or e-mail bmayfield@ccntr.com

Registration will continue through Monday, and drop-ins are welcome as well at the conference.

cmiller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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