It happens more than you think — instead of preparing for retirement, grandparents are finding themselves in round two of parenting after taking custody of their grandchildren.

Across the United States, roughly 4.9 million grandparents have stepped up to care for their grandkids and the number is steadily going up, according to census figures. Of those children, 44 percent are because of parental substance abuse, according to social worker and author Elaine K. Williams.

According to Williams, in researching her book, “The Sacred Book of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren,” she found that often grandparents were shocked to discover that their children had committed crimes or refused to raise their children. Many sources cite the growing opioid epidemic as why grandparents are being granted custody of their children’s children. Military deployment, abuse and death are also common reasons grandparents step into parental roles.

Close to home

Katey and John Whitesel of Seneca have adopted and are raising their two granddaughters, Haylinn and Kylee, who are 10 and 11 years old. They began with court-ordered visitation with the girls before gaining permanent custody. They formally adopted the girls in 2013.

According to Katey, if they had not adopted the girls, they probably would have stayed with other family members, but she’s glad for the chance to raise them herself.

“Many people wonder why the girls live with their grandparents. On rare days, they are comfortable telling their story,” she said.

Most days, however, the girls are quiet about their background.

It’s not just grandparents who find themselves raising little ones again, but even great-grandparents. Helen and Steve Roach are raising the daughter of their grandchild, Makayla, 8. Like the Whitesels, the Roaches had visitation with Makayla from a young age before she moved in with them. At Makayla’s request, they officially adopted her in May 2017 to make sure no one could take her away.

Helen said most of her family was supportive of them taking care of their great-granddaughter, but that they did face some opposition. The guardian ad litem was key to making sure Makayla’s best interest was the top priority, she added.

Second time around

The logistics of parenting when you’re older have to be considered before a commitment is made.

Whitesel retired due to disability in 2010, so there are activities she has not been able to participate in this time around. Her husband is over 70 and will have to put off retirement in order to support their new family.

But despite that, she says they are more financially stable than when they were raising their children. She said they were very young parents, still in their early 20s with four children, and didn’t have much to give their kids. Now they’re older and more established, which has made a big difference.

“God has showered us with life blessings which allow us to give the girls various activities to help with their development,” she said.

Roach said Makayla is more spoiled than her own children were when she was raising them. She has also had to put off retirement, but said they are in a better place financially now than when raising their children.

The one hurdle both Roach and Whitesel expressed was the inability to play the grandparent role with the children they are raising.

They cannot spoil their grandchildren and send them home as they would with other grandchildren. They also agreed there is often confusion with other grandchildren about different rules, and time spent with the children.

Overall, parenting grandchildren isn’t for the faint of heart, but Roach noted that it was an amazing experience.

“It is life changing, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. She is the child of our heart,” Roach said.

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