By Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News Columnist   |   February 15th, 2008

Parenting Role Can Take Toll On Grandparents

Derek is an overwhelming challenge to his caregivers. He is active, curious and extremely talkative. Derek is a picky eater, occasionally wets the bed and is an endless bundle of energy. In short, Derek is a normal 3-year-old boy, so why was a psychologist seeing him?

The issue wasn’t really about Derek, but his family. Derek’s dad was absent, and his mom was in a drug rehab program. Derek was being raised by two loving grandparents in their early 60s. When confronted with the choice of foster home placement or caring for their grandson, the grandparents obtained custody of Derek. The grandparents were generally in good health and totally committed to their grandson. Even so, they struggled with the challenges of raising a toddler.

Derek’s situation is not uncommon. Primarily, grandparents raise about 2.5 million children. Twenty-nine percent of these grandparents are more than 60 years of age, and 19 percent of them live in poverty. For 1 million of these children, grandparents are raising these kids for five or more years.

I’ve worked with numerous grandparents who are raising children, and I’ve found them to be the most committed and dedicated people I’ve ever met. They are essentially sacrificing their retirement, suffering financially and dealing with an endless array of problems to take care of their grandchild. I think that’s called love.

While I admire their dedication, grandparents need to consider the following before making such a commitment.

1. What’s your role? You can’t be a grandparent and parent. If you take on primary responsibility for a child, that makes you a parent. You have to give up the traditional role of a grandparent who “spoils the child and then sends her home.”

2. Who’s in charge? If you are living in the same household as the biological parent, make sure it’s clear who is in charge of discipline. This is the most common source of tension experienced by children. However it is worked out, make sure your grandchild understands the roles of the various adults.

3. Resolve the custody issue. Grandparents shouldn’t take on a parenting role until they have consulted with an attorney and obtained the legal custody necessary for them to make key decisions about their grandchild.

4. Get help. This is an awesome responsibility for most grandparents. Get help from other members of your family. The American Association of Retired People has a great Web site at with a section devoted to this issue.

5. Prepare for the future. Taking on such a responsibility requires you to plan ahead and make arrangements for caring for your grandchild if you cannot.

A foster or adoptive home cannot replace the care and love offered by grandparents. Even so, grandparents who make this commitment need to do so with a realization of the many tough issues and challenges they will have to confront.

[Reprinted by permission from the Feb. 10 edition of the Dayton Daily News, “Parenting role can take toll on grandparents”, Family Wise, Gregory Ramey, PH.D.]

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Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News ColumnistAbout The Author: Guest Contributor Gregory Ramey, PhD, Child Psychologist and Dayton Daily News Columnist
Gregory Ramey, PhD, is a nationally recognized child psychologist and columnist who has worked at Dayton Children’s Hospital since 1979. In addition to his weekly column in the Dayton Daily News about effective parenting, Ramey has conducted more than 200 workshops and has recently been quoted in articles in Redbook, Parenting, Ladies Home Journal as well as columns distributed by the New York Times Wire Service.

Grandparent Custody Issues From a Psychologist’s Viewpoint

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