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Grandparents take on responsibilities of raising kids

By Angela Ward
Sept. 22, 2012 at 10 p.m.

At ages when most people are spending time on the golf course or taking elaborate vacations, several East Texas families are taking on a responsibility they thought they'd finished: raising young children.

Grandparents who are raising their grandchildren are no longer unusual, said Geri Tidwell, one of the members of a support group for people in her situation.

"There can be a variety of reasons for young adult children to be unwilling or unable to raise their own kids," Tidwell said. "In those situations, in most cases, the grandparents step in."

Tidwell and her husband, Milton, raised two sons and a daughter during their first round of parenting. They're now in their early 60s, and for the second go-round, they're raising their 14-year-old grandson Zane.

"He came home from the hospital with us," Geri Tidwell said. "Our daughter was only 19 when she had him and wasn't in a position to really even take care of herself, much less an infant."

They consider Zane not to be so much their oldest grandchild as their youngest child, she said.

"The hardest thing isn't the sleepless nights or the financial pressures," Geri Tidwell said. "It's the fact that Zane doesn't really have grandparents, in the traditional sense of people who spoil him and send him home. Instead of being the ones doing the fun stuff with him, we're the ones in charge of making sure he does his homework, taking him to the dentist and all the usual parenting stuff."

The Tidwells have several other, younger grandchildren who live with their own parents. It can be difficult to walk the line between being 'typical' grandparents to the younger kids and being a combination of parents and grandparents to Zane, she said.

Belinda and Leon O'Kelley are younger than the Tidwells - she's 45 and he's 52 - but they're raising not one grandchild, but four: Shelby, Austin, Renee and Jeffrey. The siblings range in age from 8 to 12.

"We still had adolescent children of our own living at home when our oldest two grandchildren came to live with us as toddlers," Belinda O'Kelley said. "So we've never really had any kind of break from parenting."

The two younger grandchildren only have recently come to understand that the woman they call "Mama" is, biologically speaking, their grandmother. She does all the things most mothers do, from taking them to gymnastics to making sure they get a good night's sleep.

"It can be difficult because I feel like I'm getting kind of old to do all of this," Belinda O'Kelley said. "But, in return, I get a lot of love."

One thing both families agreed on was that if grandparents are going to be raising their grandchildren, it's easier to start when the kids are infants or toddlers, rather than waiting until they're in elementary school or older.

"If you get them when they're little, it can be hard physically or financially, but it's not all that different from raising any child," Geri Tidwell said. "Children who come to live with their grandparents after they've begun school are much more likely to have emotional problems. We have several grandparents in our group who are dealing with that situation."

The families said the Grandparents as Parents support group has been an invaluable resource for them, and they have made friends there with people who can relate to their situation.

The group meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Calvary Baptist Church, Pine Tree and Calvary roads. For information, call (903) 663-9395.



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