“We hadn’t planned on starting over at this age.” That was the comment made by some grandparent friends of ours who had recently taken in a grandson. They hadn’t planned on their older years being given over to raising another generation with all the accompanying costs in time, money and emotions. They’re not alone. Currently in America, about 2.7 million grandparents are the primary care-givers for their grandchildren. In many communities, the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren is growing.
This may be due to any number of reasons, including the death of the children’s parents, military deployment, or other instances in which the parents are unable or unwilling to care for their children (often due to substance abuse). So, what is a Christian grandparent to do when she finds herself being not only the grandparent, but the surrogate parent? Former dreams of having more time and money to spend on travel and hobbies may fade when we receive the unexpected call to return to parenting mode. Suddenly, the grandparent who is thrust back into parenting is faced with new challenges emotionally, economically, and logistically. For the sake of the grandchildren, we grandparents must move forward, even as we may be grieving the situation that led to this unexpected responsibility.
Are there government or community programs that could offer assistance? Spending some time searching the web for resources available to grandparents raising their grandchildren may prove helpful. Some grandparents in this situation have gone through the steps to become licensed as foster parents, opening doors to some assistance from the state. This could be a real help for grandparents in limited income situations. Might your local church be able to help? Talk to your church leadership to find out how the body of Christ might be able to come alongside you as you carry an unexpected burden.
But, even more importantly, what practical relevance does the gospel of Jesus Christ have on this drastic life change that many grandparents are facing? Clearly, grandparents being thrust into raising their grandchildren is a situation that calls for great personal sacrifice. Time, money, and energy that the grandparent had hopes of spending in one direction are now redirected toward helping raise someone else’s children. Most Christians are familiar with the classic expression of God’s love for us as found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” But, how does his sacrificial love for us impact our lives, in turn? Are you familiar with another “3:16”? 1 John 3:16 explains, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Might we paraphrase that last verse, “and we ought to lay down our lives for our grandchildren”? His love for us motivates and empowers us to show sacrificial love to others: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us” (1 John 4:16, NIV, emphasis added). Our loving Lord can empower grandparents in this challenging life situation to reflect him as they help raise their grandchildren.
If you are faced with the unexpected responsibility of raising your grandchildren, let me encourage you to keep your eyes on the end of your journey, challenging though your road may be. Not only will you have had increased opportunities to pour into your grandchildren God’s love and grace, but your royal heavenly Father has been watching you all along the way.
The King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers [your own grandchildren?], you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34–40)
And then, those most-blessed words any human being could ever hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). May we be faithful until that day.