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Grandparents as Parents?

Ten years ago, Claudia and Sean Allen's* three grandchildren were delivered to their Pensacola, FL, doorstep -- for keeps. The Allens, who both worked, had agreed to adopt the boys, ages 2 weeks to 3 years, when they were removed from their father's care due to substance abuse. "We were soon overwhelmed," says Claudia. "We were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and financially strapped."

According to the census, 3.8 million children are being raised by their grandparents -- a 40 percent increase since 1980. Drug and alcohol abuse by parents is one of the biggest reasons, but divorce, neglect, and mental health issues are also contributing to the rise in second-time moms and dads, says Sylvie de Toledo, director of Grandparents as Parents in Lakewood, CA. Many of them face challenges similar to the Allens':

  • Emotional turmoil

    Plans to travel, enjoy leisure time, and be doting grandparents have to be shelved. And besides caring for their grandkids, they often must deal with their own child's problems.

  • Physical demands

    All kids are high energy, but adopted grandchildren often have special needs; they may have to attend legal appointments, therapy sessions, support-group meetings, or tutoring.

  • Financial burdens

    Legal fees, medical bills, and such expenses as daycare can be a strain, especially for grandparents on a fixed income. And if they have any savings, they're likely not eligible for government aid.

    Like the Allens, many grandparents turn to support groups, which can offer legal, parenting, and budgeting advice in addition to emotional comfort. As a result, Claudia Allen says of caring for her grandsons: "At first I couldn't imagine how we'd do it, but now I can't imagine life without them!"


  • The AARP's Grandparent Information Center (202-434-2296) has support-group contacts and advice for second-time parents.

  • Grand Parent Again offers guidance on medical and legal issues.

  • GrandsPlace has a network to share information.
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