- Written by Rick Barree, Grandparent Support Group Participant
- Published: 18 October 2019
I have been involved with the “Grandparents’ Group” hosted by Valuing Our Children in Athol, Massachusetts for approximately a year and a half now. My affiliation with these fine people began in March of 2018 when I was called upon to take custody of my two granddaughters due to my daughter's troubles with opiate abuse: specifically, heroin addiction.
This is a very dark, deceptive, and destabilizing condition. As grandparents, it has taken 100% of our efforts in our daily lives to do the work that is necessary to bring these innocent, young children back from the darkness into the light.
As grandparents, it has taken 100% of our efforts in our daily lives to do the work that is necessary to bring these innocent, young children back from the darkness into the light.
At this time we are meeting weekly as a group. These meetings are scheduled for an hour and a half. Thanks to our wonderful coordinator, Bette Jenks, these meetings are very comfortable, welcoming, and most importantly, helpful. Members of the group are able to gather here with all of our grief and uncertainty, and lay it all out for 90 minutes. We can then walk away feeling at least a little bit better than when we walked in.
As for myself, I went to my first meeting not knowing anything about this horrendous problem that I now know is sweeping the nation and the entire globe. I was scared. I felt alone. I was seriously tormented thinking about the possibilities of what may happen next, or what I can do to help myself through this. After participating in the group for a very short time, I realized that I had come to the right place.
I am very thankful and grateful every day for the services provided us through Clinical and Support Options (CSO) in Athol. CSO produced tangible resources that were critically important to my survival with this overwhelming situation. By resources, I mean the grandparent support group meetings themselves, along with “branch services” such as professional counseling for our grandchildren and providing our grandchildren with proper care while we are attending the group. We also receive free backpacks filled with school supplies for our kids to begin their new school year. Furthermore, we are educated about programs and people who can assist us with accessing the necessary tools to be as successful as we can and make the most appropriate decisions that we can for the benefit of these young kids - and ourselves.
I for one am grateful and humbled at the outreach and efforts of all the persons and entities that are in place to help my kids and to help me to care for my kids. As I reflect on the inception of this new arrangement in my life, it is amazing to me that I am surviving as successfully as I am. But, I am. As a matter of fact, WE are.
Through all of this, one thing that has become very prominent is the extreme fatigue associated with the 24/7 grind of getting all of this done. Once we grandparents began peeling back all the layers of the new responsibilities bestowed upon us, including making the doctor, dentist, therapist and specialist appointments and arranging transportation, along with cooking meals and preparing bag lunches, caring for typical domestic needs such as laundry and house cleaning, keeping up on automobile maintenance and general upkeep of our living quarters, transporting our grandchildren to and keeping track of the schedule of after-school or summertime recreational activities, we realized it is physically and emotionally exhausting!
As I look around the room during Grandparents’ Group, I do not see any thirty-year-old people. What I see are mostly reflections of myself, older folks, pushing sixty. We are good folks to our grandchildren, giving it all we have and then some. But we are not young anymore.
One vital necessity that we are not provided is rest. There is not any time for rest. Even if there was time, there is very little money to do anything more than pack a lunch and head to a local park. We desperately need some distance on occasion from this enormous, all-engulfing responsibility.
As adult couples (for the most part), the insurmountable strain on our relationships is very damaging. In many cases, the relationships of the hosting grandparents get compromised and sometimes fail, due to the complications that arise from this new arrangement. It's like we are working so hard to help out these young kids that we lose track of one another. It is certainly not intentional, but it is practically inevitable when you factor in all of the uncertainty and negativity associated with drug addiction. Especially when we are the ones that are doing the work to fix this thing.
I would like to begin a dialogue in the interests of all grandparents raising their grandchildren that will get a message to the powers that be that we need a break. We, as loving and caring grandparents, are doing what we would instinctively do to care for our own. But, as things would have it, if we were providing this care and service for strangers, we would be compensated for our time and effort. Our children are going to grow and become a part of adult society one day, and we are the people giving our best time, effort, and energy to provide care and structure so that they can become assets to our society. I believe that this should be viewed as an invaluable service.
Given the enormity and severity of the opiate epidemic, it is safe to say that more and more grandparents will be taking up parental responsibility for their grandchildren on a steady basis. As unfortunate as this is, it is a fact. Can we create a properly structured, monitored, funded program that will provide grandparents with much needed respite? This program would include, but not be limited to, paid vacation for the grandparents only, with proper child care by certified or otherwise approved child caregivers during the grandparents’ absence. Free (or at least subsidized) gym memberships, passes for movies, dinner vouchers, and theater passes are just a few additional items that come to mind.
We the grandparents are now a community. We are good folks that are saddled with enormous responsibility under some extremely harsh conditions. And here we are, getting it done!
Valuing Our Children’s Grandparent Support Group is funded in part by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and LifePath. For more information, visit valuingourchildren.org or call 978-249-5070 ext. 23.