By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Last year, 67-year-old Lynn Ackerson became a parent again.
When she became the legal guardian of her granddaughter, Gracie, who’s 11, Ackerson joined the growing ranks of American grandparents who are raising grandchildren.
As many as 3 million grandparents are raising grandchildren, according to some recent studies, which is up from the 2.7 million reported in the 2010 U.S. Census.
Some experts, like Ana Rodriquez with the Kansas Children’s Service League, believe the actual number may be well over 5.5 million. There’s even a name for them: grandfamilies.
Statistics likely don’t take into the account the number of grandparents who have informal or non-legal custody of grandchildren or those who go unreported because grandparent-headed families are a cultural tradition, said Rodriquez, who as a kinship navigator in Sedgwick County who works with relatives caring for children.
Rodriquez said she’s seen an increase in the number of grandparents using the KCSL kinship services to navigate resources and get support, including one couple in their 80s who are raising five grandchildren, ages 4 to 18.
It had been years since Ackerson raised her only son, and she’d been an empty-nester for quite some time. But last year, Gracie’s parents became unable to provide her a safe home and consistent care in managing Gracie’s type 1 diabetes. That’s when Ackerson moved Gracie into the two-bedroom home she’d built around the time Gracie was born.
“I didn’t want her to be taken out of (her parents’) home unless it was to live with me,” Ackerson said. “There are a lot of wonderful foster parents but that’s my granddaughter and I needed to be make sure she’s OK. Nobody else on this planet loves her like I do. I may be older but no one will take better care of her.”
“She’s my only granddaughter and she’s precious.”
While her heart was definitely all-in, Ackerson admits taking on an unplanned parental role has its challenges. She nearly ran afoul of the legal system when she had to take Gracie to an emergency room for her diabetes before she’d established guardianship. Police were called and officers followed her home and checked out the living conditions to ensure Gracie was indeed being cared for in a safe place.
She spent hours watching YouTube videos to figure out fourth-grade math.
“When I went to school, math was a lot different, but I figured if a fourth-grader could do it, I could,” said Ackerson, who works full time for the U.S. Postal Service.
She considers herself blessed, she said, by being able to physically and financially raise her grandchild. But she feels cheated, too.
“I resent not being able to put on my grandparent hat and say ‘you can stay up late’ or ‘sure, you can have some candy.’ Now I’m the rule enforcer, telling her she has to go to bed, do her homework and eat nutritious food.”
Ackerson has become an advocate for the local resources she’s found that help grandparents like her — resources she never knew existed but taps into regularly now.
One of the first groups Ackerson turned to is the Kansas Children’s Service League. Its kinship navigator program is free for Wichita-area residents raising relatives. The program helps cut through the red tape on matters such as kinship rights, guardianship, financial assistance, medical coverage and more. Ackerson has even visited with Rodriguez about discipline tips.
Ackerson also regularly attends KCSL’s monthly kinship support group, which meets at 10:30 a.m. on second Saturdays at the KCSL’s offices, 1365 N. Custer in Wichita. The group formed in 2006.
She’s heard some stories that make her heart hurt, she said. She’s “an exception” raising just one grandchild, she said. “There are others raising multiple kids and living on Social Security.”
Ackerson is also part of the Parenting Again Club, a local nonprofit started last year by Cindy Miles, who understands the challenges of parenting again. Miles, 56, and her husband, Mark, 67, have been raising grandchildren since 2010, and at one time were raising four. Two of the grandchildren have since been reintegrated with their mother, while the Mileses adopted two, who are now 8 and 12.
Miles wanted to create connections and resources for other grandparents in similar circumstances. The Parenting Again Club has a Facebook group page and hosts free social events. It will hold a potluck picnic from 1:30-5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6, at the SBEA Lake, 4226 S. Gold.
Find out more about the Kansas Children’s Service League’s kinship navigator program by calling (316) 942-4261 or visit kcsl.org/KinshipNavigator. Grandparents who are parenting again can request to join the Facebook group page of the Parenting Again Club at facebook.com/groups/ParentingAgainClub.
Contact Amy Geiszler-Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org