Column One:
Eye on Unmarried America

May 07,  2007  



Happy Mother's Day, Grandma

By Thomas F. Coleman

Many American children will be giving special greetings to their grandmothers next Sunday.  No, not for Grandparent's Day.

For Mother's Day.

More than 1.5 million children wake up each morning to see grandma, not mom, getting them ready for school or in the kitchen making their breakfast.  Who does their laundry or helps them with their homework or tucks them into bed at night?  Grandma.

The number of grandmothers acting as replacement mothers for children swell when one considers temporary care giving situations.  Studies suggest that 10 percent of all grandparents in the nation have, at one time or another, become the primary caregivers for a grandchild.

But many grandmothers become substitute moms for these kids on a long term basis.  Grandma often steps in when the child's parents become addicted to alcohol or drugs, wind up in jail, die, contract a dehabilitating illness, or simply walk away from their responsibilities.

Consider the situation of Marion Prigmore, 76, of Tennessee.  She and her husband took in three grandchildren 10 years ago when her daughter got hooked on drugs. 

Prigmore, whose husband died last year, is now raising her grandchildren alone.  One of the things that gives her strength is a grandparent support group which she attends monthly.

Before she started going to the support group, Prigmore thought she was the only one serving a dual role as mother and grandmother to her grandchildren.  Members of the support group are "just like a big family now," she told the Tennessean newspaper.

Social support can be a great help, but many grandparents need financial assistance in order to properly raise these children.

State Senator Leah Landrum-Taylor introduced a bill into the Arizona Legislature earlier this year to provide a modest amount of state aid to grandparents raising grandkids. The bill was moving along nicely until it "shamelessly was killed by Senator Bob Burns" who chairs the Appropriations Committee, according to an editorial in the Arizona Daily Star.

Landrum-Taylor responded by sponsoring a "Grand Rally" at the Arizona state Capitol attended by hundreds of grandparents and their supporters.

Grandparents providing primary care for a grandchild are "a life saver for the child and a cost saver for the state," Landrum-Taylor told the Arizona Republic.

While grandparents in Arizona are pushing the Legislature to allocate money to help them in their caregiver roles, those in Ohio are discovering that allocation is only the first of many battles to be fought. 

Last September, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that even though the Ohio Legislature had set aide $10 million for grandparents and other relatives caring for children, the state had only spend about $600,000 of that money. 

"I go to four food lines a month to feed my grandchildren," Loretta Hunter told a recent forum attended by two prominent Ohio lawmakers.  "I shouldn't have to do that."

So information and referral services are in great demand.  One such group, Grandma-KARES, is run by Louise Eagle in New Jersey.

When grandmothers call her, she refers them to the Kinship Navigator Program at the New Jersey Department of Human Services.  The program provides services and cash grants to grandparents who qualify.

"I'm raising grandchildren," Eagle told the Courier Post newspaper. "At one time I had seven; now I have one. When I started taking care of my grandchildren, I didn't even know there were services for me. That's why I started Grandma-KARES, to get the word out."

AARP is also getting the word out in a big way through its National Grandparent Information Center. 

Part of its website -- "Help for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren" -- includes resources and referrals dealing with legal issues, available public benefits, and housing issues which may arise when grandchildren move in.

I imagine that Mother's Day must have some bittersweet qualities for those living in a "skipped generation" household. 

It's a sad day because the birth mom is not around.  But it's a happy day for those kids who are lucky enough to have a wonderful woman in their lives to serve them both as a grandmother and a mother.

In any event, it must be gratifying to a woman when a child runs up to her, hugs her, and says "Happy Mother's Day, Grandma."

To read other editions of Column One, click here.

Unmarried America 2007

Thomas F. Coleman, Executive Director of Unmarried America, is an attorney with 33 years of experience in singles' rights, family diversity, domestic partner benefits, and marital status discrimination.  Each week he adds a new commentary to Column One: Eye on Unmarried America. E-mail: Unmarried America is a nonprofit information service for unmarried employees, consumers, taxpayers, and voters.