Health & Medicine

For some grandparents, spoiling the grandkids is not an option

Typically, grandparents look forward to spoiling their grandchildren and then sending them home to their parents.

It's a time-honored tradition and a means for grandparents to get back at their children for those obstinate teenage years.

But at least 2.5 million grandparents nationwide don't have that luxury. Those grandparents, representing about 40 percent of all grandparents with grandchildren living in their homes, provide most if not all of their grandchildren's care.

And that is not counting the number of aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives who care for related children.

It is not a new phenomenon, but it is a growing one.

Pat Owens, 67, of Maryland knows all about that.

Owens, a widow who has two bad knees and has put off hip-replacement surgery until after baseball season, adopted her grandson Michael when he was 4 years old.

But it was when her daughter gave birth to another son, abandoned that baby at the hospital, and the baby was adopted by another family without Owens' knowledge that her advocacy work for grandparents "was knocked up a notch," she said.

Owens, a mother of six, grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of two, is the chief executive and co-founder of GrandFamilies of America and Generations United. She has been a foster parent and has adopted children, she said, but navigating the court system to get custody of her grandson was traumatic.

"It is horrible," Owens said. "It is horrible to face a biological child in court. It is hard."

Many grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren see the situation as temporary. They put off taking legal action because they think their child will come to his or her senses.

Plus, if grandparents push for custody or ask for child support, sometimes the adult child, who might not be in a nurturing family situation, will take the grandchildren away.

Owens, who is the keynote speaker at the eighth annual GAP (Grandparents and relatives As Parents) Conference in Lexington on March 25, will talk about her experiences and those of others in similar circumstances.

The one-day GAP conference is for grandparents, other relatives, caregivers and professionals who need legal advice and support for the changes that have come in their lives. There will be exhibits, breakfast and lunch, and 14 workshops aimed at easing frustration and uncertainty.

Free legal advice is provided by area lawyers, but you must register for the conference and sign up in advance to get it. It's first-come first-served.

Mary Jo Dendy, co-chair of the conference, said attendance grows every year. Last year, more than 300 people attended.

"They come to get as much information as they can and to meet other folks in the same situation," said Dendy, who heads the family resource centers at Meadow thorpe and Sandersville elementary schools.

Most of their problems stem from transitioning from grandparent to parent, which disrupts generational identities, she said. How do you maintain your role as indulgent grandparent while having to dish out the discipline of a parent?

Adding to that, many times the adult child has significant issues, usually associated with drug abuse.

"Do I let Mom see her kids or not?" is a frequent question, Dendy said. "There is no easy answer."

And none of that addresses the difficulty of making ends meet when bodies are added to a budget. "The state looks to relatives first (to care for the children), but they don't provide a lot of support financially or program-wise," Dendy said.

To sign up for the GAP Conference, which will be at Holiday Inn North, 1950 Newtown Pike, go to http://ces.ca.uky.edu/fayette-files/2010_gap_brochure.pdf and print the registration form.

Make sure you also sign up for the free legal advice. Or you can call (859) 257-5582 to have a registration form mailed to you. Or stop by the Fayette County Cooperative Extension Service, 1140 Red Mile Place, and fill it out on the spot to better ensure a free session with a lawyer.

The deadline for registrations is Friday. The fee for the conference is $5 for grandparents, relatives and caregivers, and $35 for professionals. That includes a continental breakfast and lunch.

The conference starts at 8 a.m., with Owens speaking at 8:30 a.m. Owens also will present a workshop at 10:40 a.m. titled "Experiencing the Journey."

"The workshop is about taking everyday citizens and turning them into advocates," Owens said.

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