Five years ago, my grandchildren, Kristen, now eight, and Marissa, six, moved into our farm home with their dad (our eldest son, Geoff) in the wake of a marriage that didn't make it past its fourth anniversary. While I dearly love my son and granddaughters, this living arrangement wasn't how I envisioned spending my "autumn" years with my husband, Campbell.
To be honest, when our four kids left the nest to get married, I looked forward to my life as an empty-nester. I redecorated our house, exchanging all those durable, kid-friendly earthtones for serene shades of pale blue, peach, and off-white. Since I'd postponed pursuing a career until my family was raised, I enrolled in graduate school to complete a doctorate in seventeenth- century prose.
But a month after I graduated, I found I had to put professional notions on hold to cope with a grieving three year old and a baby still in diapers. That summer—and every summer since—Campbell and I have been surrogate parents for our granddaughters, since our son's summer job as a pilot has him flying water bombers in northern Canada's fire-prone forests. Geoff restores aircraft the rest of the year, so he's able to assume more responsibility—but it's been hard to make up the deficit left by a mother's departure. And it's been hard for us to adjust to parenting the second time around.
Calling All Grandparents
More and more children are being raised by grandparents—a growing trend for which neither the children nor their grandparents volunteer. I've identified three main reasons why many of us are being summoned to an unplanned "round two" of mothering: Unmarried mothers (with the support of their parents) often choose to keep their babies rather than put them up for adoption; unemployed or underemployed young adults move back into parents' homes or rely on their moms for unpaid childcare; and, as in my son's case, divorces often create the need for grandparents' assistance.1