When I had my children, I dreamt of my children growing up, getting jobs, college, and moving out to start their own lives. I didn’t dream of raising my children and then having to help raise one of my grandchildren. Sometimes though, for reasons beyond our control, life isn’t fair and tough choices have to be made.
Our son has moved out and is working and living on his own. Our daughter moved out for a month and a half, moved 1300 miles away and came home due to circumstances beyond her control and found out she was going to have a child. That was three years ago. There were many mixed emotions from all of us, and wading through them and helping her make decisions wasn’t as difficult as some might believe because in my world love always wins.
1 Peter 4:8New International Version (NIV)
8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
All of us sin, all of us make poor choices and we can choose to love and be loved or we can not. So, even though our daughter made some very poor choices, we chose love over anger and fear.
We offered to help her figure things out and help her with her son. We had no idea that meant we would basically be raising her son, while she merely existed. We know that our daughter has mental health problems that need much more therapy than she is currently receiving, but we also are aware that as an adult, we cannot force her to be tested for conditions, unless she chooses to do them on her own.
We chose to show grace. To love unconditionally, which isn’t always the easiest choice and to help her in any way we could. In doing this, we have enabled her to take advantage of her situation. We are truly aware of this. But we also believe that she has similar conditions as her son, and believe that she is doing all she is capable of. It is definitely a difficult situation.
We never, in a million years, thought we would virtually be raising our grandson. She takes care of him, but not all day, every day as most parents would. She helps feed and changes him, but she struggles with his hyperactivity and constant need for attention. It breaks my heart. I love her and I love Him.
When our grandson was born, healthy and happy we had no idea the challenges that all of us would face. As he grew, we noticed how he didn’t speak and how he would sit and bang his head back and forth, he has an unimaginable strength for a toddler and many other signs. But he crawled and walked very early, so his weaknesses in other areas were passed off by physicians as no big deal. Some babies that have developmental milestones and reach them earlier than most, just means other areas will be slower.
It took until the age of two for medical professionals to take us seriously and realize that he did have developmental delays that needed to be addressed. At age 26 months, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Level 2, requiring substantial support and he was considered nonverbal.
The past year there have been many arguments between my husband and I and our daughter. There have also been many times of laughing and crying. We knew that our grandson would need more support and therapies and care than she could offer. And so we have become “grandparents raising grandchildren”. Our daughter still retains custody of her child and they live with us. For many personal and private reasons, we have chosen not to pursue custody at this time. I have been granted Power of Attorney over all of his financial, medical and educational needs, until such time, if at all, that his mother can take over 100%.
Ours is a unique situation. Many grandparents raising grandchildren are doing it because the biological parents aren’t in the picture anymore or are incarcerated and unavailable or aren’t fit to care for themselves, let alone their children. We know she loves her son as much as he loves her, so we continue to help them both.
Taking care of our grandson is a full-time job. He cannot be left unattended for any reason. He must be supervised at all times. For the most part, he is a very happy child, but there are times when he can be very angry and destructive. I believe the anger stems from him not being able to communicate and the frustration that comes with that. He doesn’t thrive if toys aren’t scattered everywhere. I don’t thrive very well if the house is in total disarray.
Over the last year, I have done hours of research on how to teach our grandson to communicate through words, sign language and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). He has learned his colors, the alphabet and learning how to listen. As with any three-year-old, whether they are on the spectrum or not, selective hearing is a given. But there are many times that he does not hear me, because sensory overload is in full swing and where we can distinquish the sounds and filter out what we are hearing to focus on one voice or one noise, he cannot. Not always. He loves working with sequencing patterns and this is no surprise because he loves patterns, lining objects up or stacking them . He likes to help put groceries away, canned goods being his favorite, because he can sort the ones that are the same and stack them up. He doesn’t like when they are taken away from him and put away.
As I sit here and write this blog, what used to take maybe 15 minutes now takes hours, as there are constant interruptions. He wanted juice. He wanted a snack. He wanted me to play with him. He wanted me to hold him. He wanted to watch a video. He wanted to grab things off the fireplace mantle that he is not allowed to have. He wanted to carry the cat that doesn’t like to be carried. He wanted to take paperwork and books off my desk and play “52 pickup”. He has plenty of toys to play with. He likes to look at books, but not have them read, that takes too long. He can only have board books. If they are not board books, I must sit with him, or he will tear the pages out and rip the binding off the book. He wanted me to blow bubbles with my chewing gum and then he wanted my glasses off and music turned on, which means he is tired. He touches my face, plays with my hair, rubs his eyes, yawns and just when I think he is almost out, he pops up and hugs me, jumps down, runs back and forth in the room we are in and lays down to play with his cars. I get worn out just watching him. Last night, he found the Febreeze air freshener spray and made sure the living room was smelling good. By the time I reached him, getting out of my chair was difficult, he had pretty much used up the remaining 1/2 of the can that was left! Could I yell at him about it? Nope It was my fault I left it within his reach. I simply forgot to put it up. It still smells like Hawaiin Breeze in our little corner of the world.
The accordion style, hinged gates keep him from the stairway entrance and other parts of the downstairs where he cannot go unless we are with him. Kitchen. Laundry Area. And although he is mighty, he hasn’t figured out how to open the gates, but he is determined. I used to have a foot rest in the room until he realized that he could push that up next to the gate, so he could climb over and jump into the next room. Now, there is no stool to rest my legs on, but he is safe. It’s a trade-off I am willing to do. All interior and exterior doors have additional hooks and locks on them, so he doesn’t run outside and into the street or take off.
Right now, he is napping on the loveseat, after sitting with me while I rocked him back and forth and we listened to music. He loves music, but there are some songs that he cries, maybe the instruments cause the pain or the level of noise is too great. I draw him closer and hug him tight.
Over a month ago, we took him to get his haircut. It was a life draining experience for all of us. He does NOT like his head being touched for any reason and the scissors and clippers scared him, but he needed a haircut and we knew it needed to be fast. If I mention to anyone the word haircut in the course of a conversation, he will say “me”, “da” “maw” “mom” and “car”. And I will say, “Yes, you, me, papaw and mommy rode in the car and we went and you got your hair cut.” His response is “Yay!”. In his world, yay means “yay” and “yes”. He remembers everything. He remembers the way to a certain store and if we don’t go the same way as we always do, he cries. He does not like a deviation from his routine at all.
As we continue to go to speech therapy every week and have The Play Project come into our home every week to work with him on engaging with others, pretend play, and communication, I will continue to strive to learn all I can to be his advocate and help him succeed. My hope is that one day, his mother will want to be involved more.
We have three other grandchildren that we love also and sometime’s I feel as if they are slighted, but we do our very best to be in their lives as well and spend time doing things they like to do. Being a grandparent raising a grandchild is a struggle some days, because you don’t know where being the parent stops and grandparenting starts, but you know that you will do whatever is necessary to make sure that your grandchild with special needs thrives in their life.
Just a little over a year ago, I was working full time in a large retail company interacting with adults every day. Now, most of my interaction is with a few adults and a child that laughs, giggles, screams, cries, pounds his head on the floor and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The hardest part is gaining support. I belong to several online groups of people that understand what I am going through, what we are going through and there we can share our stories, our tears, we can be real, no sugarcoating necessary.
My advice to everyone that knows grandparents that are raising grandchildren, whatever the reason is, offer to give them a break. The reason we have our children, when we are young, is so we can keep up with them and their needs. As we get older, it’s not always as easy. Be that shoulder when they need to vent a little or need a shoulder to lean on. Each situation is unique. Don’t separate yourself from your friends because their circumstances have changed. Ask what you can do to make the load a little lighter. It really will be appreciated more than you know.
May you know that Jesus Loves You! #HopeAlwaysHaveFaith
Blessings to you!