Being a Professional “Grand”

I have worked in the field of Human Services as a “Professional” for over 30 years. You can ask professionals, what does it mean to be a “Professional”, you may get many different answers. I believe the number one part of being a professional means that you “Show Up” every day, regardless of the circumstances we face or how you “feel”. Being a grandparent raising a grandchild is very much about “showing up” everyday regardless of the circumstances we face or how we feel.

Another aspect of being a professional is doing the best you can with the resources that you have available. Once again, as grandparents raising grandchildren means that we continue to do the “best that we can” every day. Some times it feels like that is not enough, but in reality it is enough. These precious little ones in our care are benefitting immensely from our efforts. Of course, we do need to be open to learning how we can do what we do, better and more effectively.

Another aspect of being a professional is learning how to work with others to accomplish our goals. Effective professionals are not “Lone Rangers”. At times it may feel like we are doing this alone, but we are not. There are resources available that can assist us. The need for a team aspect, is one of the reasons that Allene and I have started our support group for grandparents raising grandchildren. When you feel alone, pause, take a breath, and seek support and assistance from the resources that are available.

The bottom line is that you are a “Professional Grand”, making a grand difference in the lives of these precious gifts that are in our care. Keep doing what you are doing and making the difference that you are making!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

The Angry Path to Comfort!

One of the common emotions that we experience as grandparents raising grandchildren is anger and frustration. Of course, we don’t like to admit that or talk about that. I know I experience it, and I am guessing that I am not the only one. Often, we are angry at our adult children who put us in this position. In addition to the joys that come with this role, we may also be angry at times about having to be a parent again. We may be angry about the opportunities and activities that we miss out on due to our situation.

As I am doing through this article, one of the keys is to be honest about our anger and to find means of healthy expression of it. Anger is a normal emotion that we all experience. Anger is as healthy as any other emotion. It can become a dangerous emotion only we ignore it or deny that we have it. Of course, there are unhealthy ways to express our anger that can be destructive to ourselves and others, but anger itself, is a natural human experience.

I like to say that anger is a “covering” emotion. In most cases, anger is covering a deeper emotion. Usually, anger is not the deepest emotion. When we deny or ignore our anger, we block the opportunity to discover the deeper emotion. The deeper emotions can often be fear, pain, shame or grief. When we can experience and express our anger appropriately, we can access those deeper emotions and release them. If we block our anger, those deeper emotions tend to simmer and grow, which can be destructive and unhealthy.

As I think of health in general, and particularly mental and emotional healthiness, I believe two words are important. Those two words are “Experience” and “Express”. When we experience our emotions and express our emotions, we tend to stay healthy. Our children in fact are great teachers of how to experience and express their emotions. They get angry or hurt, they experience the pain or anger, they express the pain or anger, and then they go play. They are naturals at it, because it is a natural process. It is only later in life that we start to receive messages “not” to experience or “not” to express our emotions. The problem is that when block our experience, and especially our expression, we get stuck and we do not get to go “play”. This is also a good reminder of the importance of giving our grandchildren permission to experience and express their emotions. Of course, it is important to help them learn healthy forms of expression versus unhealthy forms.

One of the common sources of our anger as grandparents raising our grandchildren is our anger and frustration toward our adult children who have put us in this situation. We may be angry about how their choices have and are affecting the lives of their children and our lives as well. Often, the deeper emotion under our anger is grief. We grieve the loss of a healthy and enjoyable relationship with our adult children. We feel sadness about the unhealthiness going on in their own lives. We feel sadness about what they are missing out on related to their own children and the precious experiences with their children that they are missing. It is important that we recognize the grief that we are experiencing and find healthy ways to express that grief. Experiencing and expressing our anger related to our adult children can also free us to accept them as they are and where they are in their own individual journey. We will still need to maintain healthy boundaries with them that are in the best interests of our grandchildren. Some of the resources we can use to express our anger and grief is to journal, talk to friends, a counselor or join a support group.

I mentioned in the title of this article, the path to “Comfort”. One of my favorite Beatitudes is, “Blessed are those who Mourn, for they shall be Comforted”. Mourning is the expression or externalizing of our grief. We only get to the comfort, when we experience the mourning, or the expression of our grief. In addition to this principle being key to our own mental/emotional healthiness, it is good role modeling for our grandchildren.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

“Grace and Truth”

One of my favorite biblical passages states that Jesus came full of “Grace and Truth”.  I remember reading that one day and thought, “that’s it, that’s the key to the success of any and every relationship”.  If you think about it, all of our relationships, partner relationships, our friendships, co-workers, our relationships with our adult children, and yes, our relationship with our grandchildren, benefit when there is a combination of “Grace and Truth”.  One without the other, limits the relationship.  Truth without grace turns into judgment, and grace without truth turns into fantasy and unreality.  Truth about how the world works coupled with forgiveness and understanding when we fail or make mistakes, creates a balanced and real life with meaningful and healthy relationships.

In relationship to our grandchildren, they need us to be truthful with them, and yet offer them grace when they fail or make mistakes.  Often, telling them the truth will come in the form of setting boundaries with them.  The truth is, there are real limits in life, and no, we cannot get everything we want, and do not get to do whatever we want to do all the time.  We will also need to, age appropriately, tell them the truth about their biological parents.  It is not our job or in our grandchildren’s best interest to lie to them about their parents or attempt to protect them.  Of course, we also only need to share the truth with them when it is appropriate and called for.  We can also teach our grandchildren about grace by demonstrating it toward their parents.  That can be challenging at times, especially when our adult children continue to participate in their addiction or unhealthy behaviors and choices.  Grace may mean giving our adult children the opportunity to change and grow and become healthy individuals and parents.  We can only give them the opportunity, they have to do the work of the growth and learning that will be necessary to become healthy and functional individuals and parents.  Grace does not mean offering shortcuts and easy paths. 

Continuing with the thought of offering our adult children “Grace and Truth”, we will need to tell our adult children the truth that there are consequences to their choices.  In the best interest of our grandchildren, we will need to set clear and consistent boundaries with our adult children.  They do not get to tell us how to parent our grandchildren, when they are in our care.  That being said, I do realize that the level of authority our adult children have will depend on what legal arrangement you have regarding guardianship and custody.  It is easier when you have legal guardianship or have adopted your grandchildren.  The hard truth is that you may have to distance or even cut off the relationship with your adult children, especially when they are continuing to participate in their addition or continue to make unhealthy choices in their lives.  This principle not only applies to their choices about substance use; it also applies to their choices about relationships and the people they associate with.

We also need to apply the principle of “Grace and Truth” to our relationship with ourselves.  The truth is that we are the best option for grandchildren, and they are fortunate that we have stepped up and offered them a safe and loving home.  At the same time, we are older and tire more easily than when we raised our own children.  Hopefully, we are also more wise and more experienced than the first time around.  We will get frustrated; we will lose our cool at times and we will make mistakes.  Our angel weeks will not always be attached, and we will from time to time have to apologize and say, “I’m sorry”.  There will times when we feel lost or confused about how to best respond or meet the needs of our grandchildren.  During these times, we need to offer ourselves, “Grace”.  It is okay to be confused or lost, and that is why we will need multiple resources of people and services to assist us during these times of confusion.

We will also need to apply the principle to our relationships with our family members and friends.  We need to be honest with them about our needs and what we may need from them.  The grace part comes in our understanding that they may not initially understand, and therefore, the reason that we will need to communicate what our needs are and how they can assist us.  May they can offer us a day of respite and watch our grandchildren but may not know that unless we communicate that we would appreciate such a gift.  We may need to be honest with our adult friends who do not have to consider childcare needs when planning their social events, but we do.

“Grace and Truth”, what a wonderful balance for the life that we are walking.  In addition to this principle being a great balance for all of our relationships, we will also be modeling the principle in front of our grandchildren and hopefully, they will practice it on themselves and in all of their relationships as well.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

Lessons From Lincoln

One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. I have read several books about his life and in fact, I am reading one currently. One of the things that I appreciate about the author of the current book is that she portrays Lincoln in a very real and honest manner. She does not describe a fairy tale character, that was only a “Great” man. She portrays Abraham Lincoln as a real man with great strengths and great weaknesses. He made great and brave decisions and he made terrible decisions that had grave consequences. He achieved great accomplishments and he achieved great failures. He made great judgments about some people and was fooled by others. He was a real man who faced great challenges and stayed in the conflict long enough to experience great outcomes, and yet the challenges and battles took their toll on him and the country. The key is that Lincoln was willing to face the challenges that lay in front of him and was willing to take them on, “the best that he could”, nothing less and nothing more.

I would like to say that Abraham Lincoln was the founder of the “4 H Club”. No, not that one, but one that we can all benefit from participating in. I believe the key to his success, and ours as grandparents raising grandchildren, could be summarized in four “H” words, Honesty, Humanity, Healing and Heroic.

Of course, his most famous nickname was, “Honest Abe”. He did appear to be an honest man, and yet, let’s be honest, I’m sure he had his moments when being honest was a challenge for him. As grandparents raising grandchildren, we must be honest with ourselves and with our grandchildren, as well with our community around us. Allene and I have committed to being honest with Sebellah, especially related to the story of how she came to us and the challenges her biological parents faced. Our approach is to wait for her to ask questions and to always, in an age appropriate manner, to give her honest answers to those questions, as challenging as they may be. We have to also be honest with ourselves about the challenges of raising a grandchild, at our age. We will get frustrated and tired and will need help and respite from time to time. We also need to be honest with our community around us about the needs of grandparents raising grandchildren and what needs to be done to meet those needs. Our honesty, as scary as it may be at times, will serve us, our grandchildren and our community well.

When I think about Abraham Lincoln, one of the words that comes to mind is, “Humanity”. Fortunately, although it did take him time to develop, he understood the value of all humanity and had a respect for it. He saw the valued humanity in the slaves, when much of the country only saw them as pawns for their own prosperity and wealth. Lincoln was also one of our most human of presidents. To be honest, not all of his humanity was pretty or refined. In my current reading about Lincoln, the author discusses how much the military leadership thought that Lincoln was an unfit commander in chief, especially in the early days, because of his undisciplined manners and modes of operation. Lincoln did appear to be comfortable in his own skin and seemed to create an atmosphere that encouraged those around him to do the same. In our roles as grandparents raising grandchildren, we must remember to allow ourselves to be human and real. We have great strengths and abilities, and we have great weaknesses and disabilities. We will make some great decisions in our parenting of our grandchildren and we will make some terrible ones. Hopefully, we can be honest about those terrible ones and learn from them. Our permission to be human is also a great model for our grandchildren to follow as well.

To know Abraham Lincoln’s story is to know the pain and suffering that he experienced throughout his life. He experienced great loss in many forms, especially the loss of one of his children. He did experience great periods of depression as a result of his losses. I also believe that his own losses allowed him to develop a sense of empathy and compassion for others and their losses. All of our stories include significant losses, as well as watching the losses that our grandchildren experience. Allene and I experienced the loss of our daughter, Sebellah’s mother, and the loss of a six-month-old grandchild, in addition to many other losses. The key to grief recovery is that there are no short cuts to grief. The only way to get through grief, is to go through it. Walking toward grief is a shorter path than attempting to walk around it or away from it. We will experience periods of depression. The best remedy for depression is “expression”. We must find ways to express our pain and sorrow, so that we can heal and have the energy and strength for the great task of raising our grandchildren. Our own experience of healing can help us grow through our pain, so that we can assist our grandchildren with their healing process as well. Facing the pain and grief is our responsibility, and yet, we do not have to do it by ourselves. We can seek help from family members, friends and professionals. One of the reasons that Allene and I have started the support groups that we have started is so we can be a safe place for grandparents to come and to express their pain and grief, and therefore take a step forward along their path of healing. As painful as our grief is, it can become a part of our strength and a strength that we can share with our grandchildren.

Finally, we get to the Heroic part. The first three “H” words laid the foundation for the “Hero” that we know and celebrate as Abraham Lincoln. He was a hero and accomplished heroic feats as our president and the preserver of our union, as well as the emancipator of the slaves. We too, as grandparents raising grandchildren, our “Heroes”, accomplishing great things that is and will make a difference in the lives of our grandchildren and in our community. Although they may or may not treat you as a hero, your grandchildren will look back on your efforts as being heroic and life changing for them. Our grandchildren also deserve the heroic effort that we are putting forward and deserve the opportunity to live in a safe and loving environment that allows them the opportunity to be successful and to live in heroic lives of their own. So, “Here’s to You, Fellow Heroes!”

So, Go Forth and find your “Inner Lincoln” and be the Hero that your grandchildren deserve. You can and are doing it!

Sharing the Journey!

Rich (Pops)

Follow Their Lead

Last week we received a call from Sebellah’s school saying that she was not feeling well.  So, I went to the school to pick her up early.  When the school’s front office person brought Sebellah out to me, she said, “Go with Grandpa”.  As we were walking to the car, Sebellah said, “That was funny.  She called you a Grandpa, you’re my Dad”. 

My heart always melts when she calls me, “Dad” or when she tells a newfound playground friend that I am her “Daddy”.  Sebellah calls me “Pops” and she calls Allene, “Lolli”.  Our daughter thought, “Lolli” and “Pops” was cute for us to be called, when Kamdyn, our first grandchild was born.  It is cute, but it also could mean that we are two “suckers”.  So, we are “Lolli” and “Pops” to all of our six grandchildren.  At the same time, we have chosen to allow Sebellah to call us “Mom” and “Dad” when she chooses to.  In reality, we are her “Mom” and “Dad”, both legally, as adoptive parents, and in practical experience.  Unfortunately, we lost Sebellah’s mom to an overdose in September of 2019.  She had not seen her a year and a half, prior to her death.  Sebellah’s dad recently was released from prison.  At this point, we have chosen to have contact with him ourselves, sending him pictures and updates about Sebellah, but not allowing a relationship with Sebellah.  We have told him that if and when she asks for information about him, we will be honest with her and answer her questions.  We are open to him having a relationship with her at a later date, if we believe that it is her best interest and safe.  Our main approach is to answer her questions as she asks them and to be honest with her in an age-appropriate manner.

Our approach is “our approach”.  I believe that it is important that to say that there are very few “rights” and “wrongs”, when it comes to how we each parent the grandchildren that we are raising.  Each of us find ourselves in unique positions, with unique circumstances and face unique challenges.  We will each have to make our own decisions about what is best for our grandchildren in our unique situation.  Of course, knowing which approach or strategy is best for our grandchildren can be very difficult to determine.  This is another reason why finding a support group can be very helpful.  It can be very helpful to hear from other people who can relate to your experience and to hear from them about how they have or are handling similar situations.

I do believe the key is to always consider what is in the best interest of our grandchildren.  The interests of our adult children or other people’s opinions, should not be our guide or deciding influence.  It is always, what is best for these precious little ones or sometimes, not so little ones, who are in our care.  As far as what Sebellah calls us and what information we share with her about her biological parents, we have chosen to allow Sebellah to take the lead, and we have chosen to “Follow her lead”.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

Surviving as a Grandparent Raising a Grandchild

I wanted to share some thoughts about how to “survive” as a grandparent raising grandchildren. I actually hope that these thoughts will not only allow you to “survive” but actually to “thrive” in your endeavor. I am going to use the word, “Survive” as an acronym to help us thing about the tools that empower us as grandparents.

Seek Support – It is very difficult to do this by ourselves. We need to seek the support of a team of people who can help us and our grandchildren. Fortunately, Allene and I have the support of many family members that have been awesome, and definitely are a vital part of our team. Seek out a support group in your area. We are in the process of starting our second support group. We started one in Arizona, and now after being in North Carolina for a year, are starting a support group here. Seek out local non-profit organizations for assistance and support. You can check out our new website, to see what are some national organizations that can provide some support.

Understand the Paradox – The journey of raising a grandchild is quite the rollercoaster ride. It is full of “joys” and “challenges”, and unfortunately, we don’t get to choose which we experience when. The choice to raise your grandchildren is a choice that you would make again in a heartbeat, and yet, a choice that you wish that you had never had to make. It is important that we give ourselves permissions to experience both the joys and the challenges. We are human and this will definitely always be a human experience. Give yourself permission to be “Human”.

Respite – We will need time of respite. The term “respite” means a short time of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant. Yes, at times it is very difficult and even unpleasant. We need time for ourselves and it is important to find people who can offer us periods of a break. That can be for an afternoon or for a weekend. The time of respite is vital for both you and your grandchildren. You both win! So, it is important to seek people who would be willing to help out with the care of your grandchild for an afternoon or even a weekend. I do understand that for some grandparents, find these people can be challenging.

View – In order to survive our experience, we will need to adjust our view of our circumstances and the world that we live in. I facilitated a grief recovery group for six years. One of the principles we used in the group was that, “The world as you knew it, no longer exists”, related to how the world has changed because of your loss of your loved one. A similar principle applies here. The world as we knew it, before we took custody of our grandchildren, no longer exists. Our world is totally different. It has affected us financially, socially and physically. A key is to find our way to seeing that we now have a new “purpose” in life and that we are committed to succeeding at accomplishing that new purpose. In many ways, gaining a new purpose can be a blessing for us, as well as our grandchildren.

Initiate Boundaries – I will be honest in that initiating and maintaining boundaries has been a lifelong challenge for me. Allene is much better at it than I am. That being said, I do understand the importance and value of boundaries. Boundaries provide us with a sense of identity and security, for ourselves, as well as, our grandchildren. We need to establish and maintain healthy and effective boundaries in our role as a parent. Unfortunately, we don’t get to be the weekend grandparents that come in and spoil the grandchildren, and then send them back home to their parents. Our grandchildren, don’t go back home. They are home! Although they can be challenging to implement and maintain, effective and consistent do the hard work of parenting for us and provide our grandchildren with the safe parameters to grow into becoming healthy and productive adults, eventually. We will also have to maintain healthy boundaries with our grandchildren’s biological parents, if they are still involved in their lives. That can be very challenging at times. Often, you are having to battle your own biological children in the best interest of your grandchildren.

Venture Back To School – Yes, you may have to be a part of your grandchildren’s school experience, which you had not quite planned on, but I am talking about the need for us, as grandparents going back to school ourselves. The world that we raised our children in, no longer exists. We are raising our grandchildren in a very different world from the world that we grew up in or raised our children in. We may need to go back to school in some way to learn about the new technological world that our grandchildren are living in. One way we can do this is to get to know younger parents, either in your own family or through your grandchildren’s school or your religious organization. Don’t be afraid to hang out with younger parents. You will probably both benefit from the relationship. We also need to be open to learning new techniques and strategies to parenting. We have learned a lot in recent years about how to help children grow and develop in a positive manner. I would suggest doing some reading or attending a parenting workshop that focuses on positive parenting techniques and strategies.

Experience and Express – I love these two words. In my mind and experience, they are the key to emotional, relational and physical healthiness. The word “depress” literally means to “push down”. When we push down our emotions, it can often lead to some level of depression. The opposite of depression is “expression”. Children experience and express naturally. The experience anger or pain, they express their anger or pain, and then they go play. It is only later in life that we start to learn “not” to experience and not to express our emotions. Unfortunately, the consequence is that we don’t get to go “play”, because we have not completed the healthy process of emotional experiencing and expression. Learning how to improve our emotional intelligence, awareness and expression is vital to our emotional, relational and physical well-being. We can express ourselves through talking, writing, art or physical activity. This is why finding a support group or a group of good friends is so important for grandparents raising grandchildren. Experience and Express!

So, hopefully these thoughts are helpful for you as you continue your journey of a grandparent raising grandchildren. You and your grandchildren deserve not only to survive, but to thrive! You can do it!

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (Pops)

Turning Point Toward a “New Normal”

Wow! What a year! I know that all of us were glad to see 2020 come to a close and that we are hopeful that 2021 will be a more “normal” year. Hopefully, 2021 will be more normal, and yet, I sense that our lives will forever be different and never again, “as it was”. So, we are looking for a “new normal”.

The picture that I just described is also what all of us that are raising our grandchildren, have experienced, and will continue to experience, finding a “New Normal”. Our lives, and the lives of our grandchildren will never be as they were. Our whole experience is about discovering a “new normal” that is safe and productive for our grandchildren and ourselves. Just as 2020 was a year of crisis, turmoil, tragedy and life, as we have never experienced it before. The same could be said about our experience coming into situation when we became, “grandparents raising grandchildren”. We all were ushered into our new roles as a result of a time of crisis. For many of us, that time of crisis was not a crisis lasting a few days, but often, a time of crisis lasting years. Our grandchildren were the main victims of those times of crisis, and the ones who experienced the greatest hurt and loss.

Our goal as grandparents who are raising our grandchildren, is to provide a “new normal” for our grandchildren that is characterized by safety, consistency, nurture, support, and obviously, love. We were fortunate that we were able to intervene in Sebellah’s story very early. We have had her in our care since she was 5 months old. Although it was early, those first 5 months of her life were very chaotic and tragic, with lasting consequences. She is a beautiful and healthy young lady of 6, today, and yet she still struggles with fears and anxieties that I believe can be traced back to those first 5 months of her life. Fortunately, we have been able to discover and maintain a “new normal” for her that will offer her the opportunity to be successful and to discover all of the wonders of her unique “giftedness” that makes her, Sebellah. We are fortunate to have a great resource of friends and family members that have assisted us in creating that “new normal” for her.

Allene and I have also had to find our own “new normal” and we are having to redefine it every day. There are times that I do definitely miss our previous life and wonder what our lives would be like if we were not in this situation. That kind of grief is a normal part of this journey and one that is okay, and even healthy, to acknowledge. Although there are times of grief, the greater experience is joy and thankfulness for the positive impact that Sebellah and our experience of raising Sebellah has had on our lives.

Developing and maintaining the “new normal” is hard work and we have constantly remind ourselves that it is important to keep working at it. We have to work at finding the energy to be a parent at this stage of our lives. We have to work to find and maintain friendships that are important for our own well being. Allene is better at that than I am. We have to work to be able find the balance of being Sebellah’s “parents” and “grandparents” to our other five grandchildren.

As we start this new year of 2021 and are turning toward a more hopeful life experience this year, I am thankful for the opportunity to be an instrument in the “turning point” experience for Sebellah and I am thankful for her and the instrument that she is the “turning point” in my life and in our lives.

Sharing the Journey,

Rich (“Pops”)

New Support Group Opportunity in NC

Our family has been in North Carolina for a year now. Sebellah has started kindergarten and is doing well. 2020 has been a challenging year, as it has been for all of us. Sebellah did get fitted for hearing aids and overall, has done well with them. We love our new home and look forward to 2021 and hopefully being able to further explore our new surroundings. I am hopeful about 2021!

We are excited about a new opportunity that we are exploring. We met last week with representatives from the school district in Mount Airy and some local non-profit organizations and discussed with them about the possibility of partnering with us to start a new Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group. They are said that they would like to partner with us and appear to be willing to help in any way that they can. We have a follow up meeting on January 4th. We will probably get started with a Zoom type meeting, with the goal of face to face meetings in the fall of 2021.

I have taken time off from writing on this blog but I am planning on restarting regular posts, offering my own experience as a grandparent raising a grandchild, as well as resources as we come across them.

Sharing Life’s Journey!

Rich (“Pops”)