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Grandparents

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Susan Hillman has been raising her grandson William since he was a newborn.  William is part of the 11 percent of children in Louisiana living in households headed by grandparents. Credit: Susan Hillman Susan Hillman has been raising her grandson William since he was a newborn. William is part of the 11 percent of children in Louisiana living in households headed by grandparents. Credit: Susan Hillman
Mayor Holden signs a proclamation making September Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Month. Credit: Louisiana Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Mayor Holden signs a proclamation making September Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Month. Credit: Louisiana Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Caroline Gerdes | LSU Student

A generation ago, tucking in a baby meant a lullaby and nestling him in a soft sea of blankets and bumpers.

Today, this soothing nighttime ritual could be dangerous.

According to a recent article in Time magazine, advancements in childcare, such as bare cribs and placing babies to snooze on their backs (instead of tummies), have reduced deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The article, "Grandparenting 101 Classes School Grandma and Grandpa in the Brave New World of Parenting," advises helpful grandparents to bone up on these modern techniques – from diapers with Velcro tabs to car seats to baby slings – by taking a parenting class, or refresher course.

In states like Louisiana, these classes are more relevant.

Louisiana, according to Louisiana's Grandparents Raising Grandchildren website, has the nation's third highest percentage of children living with grandparents. The national average of children living in households headed by grandparents is 7 percent; in Louisiana, it is 11 percent.

When Susan Hillman's children left the nest, she began pursuing a bachelor's degree in psychology and discovered a passion for writing. But everything changed when Hillman became a parent again, raising her daughter's son, William.

When William was five-weeks-old, his mother, having medical issues, left him with Hillman. When it was time for William's three-month vaccination shots, and his mother had made no contact, Hillman took the situation to Child Protective Services and gained permanent legal custody.

Hillman said she felt like her life had been flipped upside down. There was no time to prepare for William. She joked that she had nine months to get ready for her children.

"[I had to] start from scratch ... Like I'm raising my first kid all over again … [Parenting's] not an easy job … no where near as easy as the first time around."

William, now 3, and his "Maw Maw" since have settled into a routine. Hillman takes University of Phoenix classes and writes for the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren channel on examiner.com from her Simpson, La. home.

One of her articles on the web site discusses the importance of parenting classes for grandparents that are head of household.

"[It's] beneficial to hear what has changed in parenting styles," she said. "When I raised my kids people didn't realize spanking could hurt a child."

Hillman described the shift from non-physical punishment as one of the biggest parenting changes. She said classes give you "more confidence," about raising children again — and these classes are beneficial beyond infant-care.

Patricia Robinson, project manager for Louisiana non-profit Grandparents Raising Grandchildren (GRG), also noted the changes in technology grandparents should follow.

An employee from the district attorney's office spoke to her grandparents group about Internet safety and online predators.

This is just one of the resources offered. Robinson said GRG does not have a large budget, so they aim to connect grandparents in need with appropriate agencies.

For example, a grandparent's home and car caught on fire and GRG connected the family to the appropriate charities.

Robinson said there is a small emergency fund to help cover rent and other costs, which usually runs dry around this time of year. During the holidays, she says, expenses are higher, along with energy bills, accidents and fires; and grandparents need the extra help.

Hillman noted that a grandparent's organization in her community recently offered free legal advice for grandparents who needed information about gaining custody, adoption and wills.

Robinson said the most helpful financial benefit provided by GRG is informing grandparents about a kinship subsidy they are eligible to receive.

Many grandparents are retired and rely on this monthly aid. Hillman noted that she and other grandparents on disability, like herself, also appreciate the subsidy.

But according to a Nov. 4 Associated Press story, Louisiana's social service department is cutting $17 million from its programs, including this subsidy.

Robinson confirmed the service has been reduced by about $60 per month. The article best describes it:

"The department will also cut the monthly assistance given to grandparents and other relatives taking care of children who are not their own, through the Kinship Care program, from $280 per month to $222."

Robinson said some people do not think this cut is significant, but grandparents are feeling the loss.

"[People think $60] just a small credit. But, when you're already lean, it's not a small credit."

The most important assistance GRG provides, according to Robinson, are its support groups. She explained that all grandparents raising grandchildren are acting as caregivers because parents are not. She says they have all felt loss.

GRG offers monthly support groups across the state along with an annual conference. The group attempts to travel throughout Louisiana with the information from the conference, as many grandparents cannot make the trip.

Hillman discussed how the sense of community made her realize she was not alone. She discussed how talking about common problems with other grandparents help her find solutions.

"You wonder if they miss their parent," she said about William.

William knows she is his grandmother, but he is still young. Hillman said she is apprehensive about school when he is surrounded by peers talking about mommy and daddy. She said older children know the emotional story about where their parents are.

And, this is just one of the stresses she can discuss with grandparents who have been there.

Robinson asks grandparents to put their needs first when necessary — to not skimp on their own health and medication. "[Grandparents] need to be healthy to take care of the kids."

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