These days, the world of some grandparents is not about the rewards of a life of labor. At a time when they expected to be slowing down, they are now trying to figure out how to meet the needs of their grandchildren for whom their children are not in a position to be responsible. These grandparents often are overwhelmed and frustrated. In Columbiana County there is a valuable resource for those who are raising a family member's children: Kin and Kids, a program of Family Recovery Center.
"It'll open doors for you that you don't realize need to be opened," said Rosemarie Andrjewski of Beloit. She and her husband Tom took on responsibility for a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old (now 18 and almost 16.) They didn't realize what the impact on their lives was going to be. Up till then, they'd been enjoying grandparenting in the traditional way.
"You can't be grandparents when you're parenting," Tom said.
Rosemarie added that the grandchildren who don't live with them had difficulty understanding why they were treated differently than their cousins. Now, she thinks they do.
Rosemarie is very active in her church and has always relied heavily on her faith. "We don't parent the way it's done today," Rosemarie said. The 18-year-old no longer lives with them. The 16-year-old is involved at church, loves to babysit and spend time with her cousins. She has learned about respect-giving it and receiving it. She has learned that life has hardships, Rosemarie said.
Financial hardship visited the family the year after Rosemarie and Tom got the grandchildren. Tom was in a disabling accident that forced him to retire, placing them on a fixed income. Another situation that arose from this major change in their lives was their circle of friends who were finished raising their children and planning what they were going to do in retirement. They no longer had so much in common because the grandchildren were central in Tom's and Rosemarie's lives.
"You do it because you love them," she said.
Along the sometimes bumpy, often frustrating way, Rosemarie spent her leisure time reading everything she could get her hands on about parenting grandchildren, the needs of the grandchildren. And when she found some bit of information she rejoiced at the discovery, something more she could use to help the grandchildren.
A grandchild brought a flyer home from Salem School District. Rosemarie saw Kin and Kids was something for grandparents who parent grandchildren. Could it be what she'd been looking for? She went to the first ever meeting and has been involved ever since.
"It let me know I wasn't alone. It was an outlet door for me," she said.
With so many issues to deal with-court, visitation, substance abuse, and more-it can be very frustrating, overwhelming. The Kin and Kids group provides not just a sounding board for a vent session. There is available a great deal of information, knowledge and experience to help guide grandparents through all the red tape.
For Tom and Rosemarie, Kin and Kids is a bright place, a happy place to go. The group shares their experiences, listens to others about their experiences. Friendships form. You can be yourself, Rosemarie said. "And when you say goodbye, you can't wait for the next meeting. Allow yourself to go to a meeting," she said. At the meetings there is love. "You can see it and feel it," Rosemarie smiled.
Tom agrees. "Go in open-minded. You aren't alone."
May is Older Americans Month. Many older folks in America retire and enjoy well-earned leisure and limited time with grandchildren. As Tom and Rosemarie have shown us, some grandparents become crucial players in the lives of their grandchildren. Next week: Kim and Shirley Shutler will share what Kin and Kids means to their family.
Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities with education, prevention and treatment programs. The Kin and Kids program is funded by the Brookdale Foundation and United Way of Northern Columbiana County. For more information about Kin and Kids, contact Mary Caye Bixler, Kin and Kids director, at the education department, 330-424-0531.