Families come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. The people who raise you don't have to be your biological or adopted parents. Often times other family members step in and fill the role of parent for children. When this family configuration occurs, the term used to describe it is called a skip generation family.
What Is a Skipped Generation Family?
A skipped generation family is a family with grandparents and grandchildren, but no middle generation included. Essentially, this means that the grandparents are raising the grandchildren in the absence of the parents.
There are countless reasons why grandparents become the sole caregivers for their grandchildren. Some of the more common reasons are:
- The parents die
- Teenage pregnancy
- Incarcerated parents
- Drug and alcohol use by the parents
When parents can not or will not care for their children, grandparents often step in and fulfill that role in the children's lives instead of having the children go into the foster care system. In 2008, a federal law was passed, making it easier for grandparents to adopt or foster their grandchildren.
Other Terms for Skipped Generation Families
While skip generation family or skipped generation family is the most common and most recognizable term used to describe a family unit that includes grandparents and grandchildren without the middle generation, other terms are used as well.
- GRG - Grandparents raising grandkids
- GAP - Grandparents as parents
- Grand family - a family containing grandparents and their grandchildren
By comparison to traditional families, skipped generation families are relatively rare. In 1970, 3% of households were comprised of grandparents solely raising their grandchildren. By 2012, that percentage rose to 6%. In 2010, 920,000 American children were living with a grandparent and no parent in the household. Over the years, the incidence of skipped generation families has doubled but continued to make up a tiny portion of families in the country.
Many grandparents step in and care for their grandchildren temporarily. Still, a high percentage of grandparents raising grandkids are doing more than offering a respite to parents in regard to childcare. Many grandparents who have stepped into the role of caregiver have been caring for their grandchildren for extended periods. Per the Census Bureau, 39% of grandparents have been raising their grandchildren for over five years.
Impact on Grandparents
Being a part of a skipped generation family has impacts on both the grandparents and the children.
Grandparents who find themselves raising their grandchildren without the aid of the parents can experience high-stress levels. Here they are, in the prime of their life, child-free and sometimes even retired, only to then be thrown back into the woes of parenting young children. When the grandchildren no longer live with their parents because the environment was highly toxic or unsafe, emotional and behavioral issues often arise, furthering an already stressful situation.
Grandparents might feel stressed because they have health concerns, worry about if they will be able to care for children until they reach adulthood, face financial burdens, have strained relationships with the grandchildren's parents, or face court rulings and situations.
Guilt and Depression
Grandparents who are raising their grandkids can fall into depression. They may feel as if this new living situation is somehow their fault. Suppose the parents lost custody of their children because of drugs, alcohol, or abuse. In that case, grandparents may internalize the situation and shoulder much of the blame, feeling that they failed their own children in some way, which in turn created the situation of their children failing the grandchildren.
It can be challenging for grandparents to see their friends living a child-free life while they are attending ballet practices, football games, and parent-teacher conferences again. As grandparents find themselves back in the role of primary caregiver, they can become isolated from their friend group, further contributing to feelings of loneliness and depression.
Many elderly grandparents are not financially prepared to raise more children. Skipped generation families tend to be less financially set than families with parents at the head of the household. In living arrangements where a grandmother is raising her grandchildren without the parents' assistance or involvement, the incidence of poverty s highest. Many of these households receive some form of financial aid.
Impact on Children
The children being raised in skip family arrangements can also be impacted by growing up in a home that doesn't include their parents.
Being raised by aging grandparents commonly creates a financial strain in the home. For grandparents who have set budgets and incomes, an influx of dependants can land them in a financial pickle. Kids who grow up without their parents caring for them are at a greater risk for poverty.
Children of skipped generations are at a greater risk for emotional and behavioral problems. This can result from multiple factors, including their parents' alcohol and drug use, neglect or abuse, feelings of loss or abandonment, and otherwise. Boys, in particular, are at a higher risk for externalizing behavioral problems. They demonstrate their distress by acting out and engaging in ill conduct. Girls, comparatively, internalize their emotional distress. They are at a higher risk for developing anxiety, depression, feelings of worthlessness, and fear.
Adolescent children living in skipped generation configurations are at a greater risk for emotional and behavioral problems. This could be due to the fact that aging parents are not as keen to monitor and set limits with their grandchildren. Teenagers undergo a period of self-discovery and identity awareness. Coming to terms with the fact that their parents are not in their life can affect their concept of self-value and self-worth. This can be a contributing factor to feelings of sadness, anger, and depression in adolescents.
Positive Aspects of Skipped Generation Families
Skipped families are not all doom and gloom, not even close. True, grandparents and grandchildren are at elevated risks for plenty of unpleasantries, but there are some silver linings to this familial structure as well, for children and adults.
Renewed Sense of Youth
While some grandparents raising grandkids feel lonely and isolated from their age-peers, others discover that the young children in their home truly keep them young, active, and energetic. They are out playing with kids, taking walks, volunteering in the schools, and cheering at sporting events.
Renewed Sense of Purpose
Many grandparents feel a loss of purpose when kids fly the coop and start their own families. They sometimes find themselves feeling unneeded or unwanted as their kids and grandkids form their own lives outside of them. Raising grandchildren can give grandparents a renewed sense of worth and purpose. They are again needed, vital and crucial in a child's life.
Increased Love and Stability
For children who have been removed from their parents' home and placed with grandparents, the new environment often provides more love structure and stability than the prior. Many children discover that life in grandma and grandpa's home has a more safe and predictable flow compared to the former home with parents who could not adequately care for them. Having grandparents involved in children's life certainly has its fair share of benefits.
Finding Support When Raising Your Grandkids
For grandparents raising their grandkids, the key to creating loving, supportive, stable environments where everyone can thrive lies in the support systems. To best combat stress, trials and tribulations, and the unexpected, grandparents need to surround themselves with support systems. Several support groups are specifically geared towards skipped generation families. Other resources are also available to grandparent-led homes that can relieve common burdens, including financial burdens, healthcare burns, and housing burdens.