Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: A Hartford Grandmother Talks About Her Challenges
By Susan Campbell
January 31, 2012
Louise Douglas, of Hartford, got custody of her first granddaughter when the girl was 5 years old. Nationwide, census figures say the number of grandparents raising grandchildren increased by more than 25 percent since 2001, and researchers say that while the economy flounders, that number will increase. In Connecticut, some 45,000 children under the age of 18 live in a home headed by a grandparent, based on sample data taken by the Census Bureau over a three-year period, 2007 to 2010. That's compared to some 33,000 in 2007. View the Census Data.
Douglas gained custody of a second granddaughter — the sister of the first granddaughter — almost from birth. Her first granddaughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her second granddaughter (she has asked their names not be published) has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This is Louise's story, in her own words. At age 72, the retired day care teacher finds herself mothering again, this time as Nanna.
For my first granddaughter, her mother brought her to me to watch her, and she never came back to get her. It took a while before I could get any kind of financial help. Her mom — my daughter —- was still gettting state assistance, and it took a whole year — and a couple of social workers — before I was able to get any kind of recognition.
It was really a struggle for me, emotionally, more than anything else. I figured now it's my time. I'd really started living. I had four children, and now if I wanted to go to New York to visit family for the weekend, I wouldn't have to worry about finding someone to watch the children.
I remember the conversations I had with God at the kitchen sink. I kept asking, 'Why me?' and then I got this sense of comfort and the question was turned 'Why not me?'
[The oldest granddaughter] was an active young lady. It took her a while to settle in. She was confused as to what was happening with her. She loved coming to see me, but she wanted to go home to her mother. She had a lot of questions, and as a 5-year-old, she couldn't put all those questions into words. She adjusted, but she hit 13 and stopped playing basketball because she was having pains.
It took three years, but [the oldest granddaughter] was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She now lives on her own in Manchester, with an almost-3-year-old who likes to come to her grandmother's and play at a plastic kitchen.
I can remember when I got the last child, by then I was more equipped to deal with the state. The judge gave me custody of the first child, and I didn't know I had to apply to DSS. That floored me. When the second child came along, I knew exactly what to do. Nine times out of 10 most relatives aren't in a position to support a child. They are not working. One good thing about it I never had to relocate. I already had this place.
Then (the younger granddaughter) was diagnosed as bipolar. She turned 16 in December. She's been in and out of the hospital. Yesterday, she went to school and I got a phone call that she was expressing she was going to commit suicide. But I have help from Catholic Charities. I have people to call now. I got her home, and she was going to leave, and I had to tell her several times that if she left the house without my permission, my only recourse would be to call the police. I had to say that several times.
I look at the photos of her and I wonder how did she go from that happy child to what she is now?
My granddaughter's mother passed away six years ago. In the beginning, I felt resentment, but her life was starting to go downhill (it was alcohol, drugs, too, probably), and I had more sympathy for her, and more compassion. She had a third child who is in the custody of my older daughter. By the time it got to two, I didn't see myself taking on three.
I get a lot of support from my church, Wintonbury Baptist.
I worry, though. What happens later? I worry about about that, day and night. Sometimes I am driving and I have to pull over and cry. When I am done crying, I keep going. I'm taking an intensive computer course to keep my mind active so I won't just sit around and think about this.
You just stay in prayer. Look to God for help. That's what I have been doing. I am just staying in prayer.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at