Thankful for Grandfamilies All Year Round

Young girl holding the hand of an elderly person
Young girl holding the hand of an elderly person

This blog was co-authored with Jaia Peterson Lent, Deputy Executive Director, Generations United


Thanksgiving is one of the most-loved holidays. It's a time to gather and give thanks often over delicious food and delightful conversation.

For many it's a time be with aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, grandchildren and grandparents you may not see very often.

Not so for the 7.8 million children who live in grandfamilies or the 2.7 million grandparents who are raising grandchildren.

They see each other every day.

This can be good. Children fare better and experience more stability when they are raised by relatives and the caregivers report benefits like an increased sense of purpose in life.

It can also be tough, very tough.

This holiday season, more than 1 in 5 grandparents raising grandchildren are likely to struggle with providing a holiday meal or simple gift.

About 21 percent of the 2.7 million grandparents raising grandchildren are living below the poverty line. While 58 percent of them are still in the workforce in full or part time jobs, 39 percent are over 60, and 25 percent have a disability elevating the challenge of providing for the growing needs of the grandchildren in their care.

A recent report by Generations United, the Corporation for Enterprise Development and the Citi Community Development looked deeply into the financial challenges and strengths of a group of low- income grandfamilies.

It wasn't surprising to learn in the Resounding Resiliency of Grandfamilies that these families are similar in many ways to other lower income American households.

However, grandfamilies often face unique, additional challenges that set them apart:

1. The children often come to them unexpectedly with little or no time to plan.

2. They're suddenly faced with the need to find ways to increase their income in later life (one of the hardest times to do this) making it especially difficult to make ends meet.

3. Grandparents are experienced and often savvy household managers, yet they still face significant barriers to achieving financial stability.

4. They often forgo their own financial dreams to invest in their grandchildren.

As one grandmother said -- I'm making it. Well, not making it, but I got my head above water. Thank God I know how to doggy paddle, because if I didn't, I would have drowned a long time ago.

The grandparents often feel like they are swimming alone with no one to help.

The report confirmed this and recommended one way to strengthen their financial position would be to build the capacities of the caregivers' social and family networks.

Create a swim team so they aren't trying to go the distance alone.

How can you help?

Locate a local Grandparent Support Group and ask what they need. It could be food for a holiday meal. It might mean a gift card so they can buy a present for the children. Or an hour or two of child care so they can do the shopping, go to the doctor or simply sit in silence.

This holiday season and throughout the year, commit to helping a grandfamily truly be a GRANDfamily. A family that can focus on being thankful for the children and not as anxious about providing for them.