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June 5, 2012

Grandparenting Is Risky

Why we sign up for it anyway

People say being a grandparent is the best. In a lot of ways this is true. You get to spoil the heck out of the kids, jack them up on sugar, and then hand them back to their parents for bedtime.

In my case, though, there’s been no handing him back to the parents. For the past few months, my grandson has been in my husband’s and my primary care. We do a lot less “jacking him up”—at least not before bedtime.

Just when our nest was nearly empty, we’ve been thrust back into the days of preschool artwork, trips to the playground, and stories before bed. It’s the best.

What isn’t the best is not knowing how long we’ll be doing this. Not because I’m anxious to get back to my life as I knew it. And not because I mind answering 473 questions a day for an inquisitive five year old. What’s difficult about not knowing is the thought of having to give him back. I’m crazy in love with this child, and in so many ways, I wish I could raise him as my own.

But I’m not his mother, and my husband isn’t his father; we’re his grandparents. This means we get the responsibilities of Mom and Dad without the authority to determine what happens next—and when.

Now before you jump down to the comment box to tell me we have legal rights as grandparents, please understand, I’m simply discussing the emotional side of this issue here. More than 2 million grandparents in America are raising their children’s children, and many of them have obtained the legal authority to stand in the gap. For right now, ours is an informal agreement to give our grandson a safe, secure, loving place to live for as long as needed.

Knowing the emotional risk involved, why would someone sign up for a gig like this? Any foster parent could probably give you the answer, but I’ll take a crack at it. We sign up for it because we know no other way. For 25 years, God has been grooming us for this role. We’ve raised four sons of our own. It’s a rare opportunity to be called upon to use all of your life’s training and experience for the good of another human being. Getting to be part of shaping our grandson’s life at a time when he needs stability and security more than anything is a privilege beyond words.

This little boy’s life has gotten off to a bumpy start. But in the midst of so much change and uncertainty, our home can serve as an oasis where he can know with absolute certainty that he is loved. We’re not going anywhere.

Each week that’s gone by, I’ve had to find my own oasis—God—to be reminded of all the promises he has for those who love him. When I worry about our grandson’s future, Jeremiah 29:11 gives me hope: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the LORD. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”

When I fret over how long we’ll get to have our grandson in our care, I remember that God’s timing is perfect. He is walking beside our grandson, his parents, and us. None of us is experiencing this part of life alone. God has it all in hand, and he sees the beginning from the end, even when all we see is the messy stuff happening now.

Trusting in God means believing in him the way our precious little grandson is counting on us right now. He’s not worried about tomorrow. He’s just wondering whether it’ll be Grandma or Grandpa who’s going to play ball with him in the front yard.

Grandparenting is risky because love is risky. It hurts and it heals; it makes you soar, and it leaves you in despair. Disney has yet to build a roller coaster that can do all this. And yet, even in the midst of heartache for our grandson and the life we hope he can have, I know where our instinct to get on this thrill ride came from: We love because God first loved us. He knows better than anyone how it feels to be crazy in love with his offspring. He risks it all—the heartache, the joy—for all of us. And in Jesus he tells us, unequivocally, we’re worth it.

Today when our grandson wakes up, we’ll probably eat eggs for breakfast, work in the garden until he gets bored, and end the night with a couple of stories. My husband and I will trade turns with him according to our work schedules. We’ll fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, just like we did when our own kids were small. And tomorrow, we may wake up to do it all over again. Until the day comes when this cycle is broken, I’ll do the small part I’ve been given to do and love our grandson with all my heart, knowing full well it will get broken when it’s time to let him go. But I will also tell you now, unequivocally, he is worth it.

Marian V. Liautaud is editor of Church Management Resources for Christianity Today and a frequent contributor to Kyria.com.

Related Tags: family, grandparents, love, parenting, risk, trust


Thirty-eight years ago, I was fortunate enough to have two wonderful grandparents "stand in the gap" for me. They raised me with the love and guidance every child should be afforded. Your grandson is a very lucky young man. God bless

We too were put in a position we had to take in our great Grandson. He was 3 at the time and is 10 now. He had to have open heart surgery and was also asthmatic. Home life was such as he would not get the care he needed. He has been a real blessing to me now. My husband passed away 3 and 1/2 years ago and he as been company for me and a real help around the house and yard.I couldn't get along with out him and he feels the same about me.

I lived with my parents, but my mom's severe depression/anxiety debilitated her for many years and my grandma's house was a haven, an oasis and she stood in the gap for us in a huge way. She has been dead for nearly 19 years - but my sister and I still own her house. We rent it out, but neither of us can bear to sell it.

Thank you so much to all the grandparents, and even gr-grandparents who have made the decision to raise the little ones. My parents didn't know how to parent, and they were violent alcoholics. It is my grandma who loved us unconditionally, and who brought us to church, played with us, and just spent time with us. My sister and I don't know where we'd be today if not for her. I was very fortunate and she lived a very healthy life to the age of 93, when she passed away in her sleep, and I am sure she prayed for us every day. She really didn't know what our home life was like. Nobody did. I was shocked when my best friend next door to me told me that she had no idea about all the fights, my parents were so loud and screaming, I thought everyone knew. But I kept it bottled up for 23 years, thinking that it would reflect on me, and that I may have been the cause of it all, etc. Our parents even told us that we were the cause of it all, but of course we weren't. That's how children think, and back in the early 60's there wasn't anyone to turn to. Anyway, my sister and I have gotten past everything, and we've both raised our kids, and they're all Christians, they're in college, and doing well. And I know it's because of God and my Christian grandma who made it all possible. I really look forward to being reunited with her in heaven. And again, thank you to the older generations for helping the kids, you're making a huge difference in their lives.


True...it's blessings galore! My son aged 11 years lives with my parents all through the day and comes home to us at the end of the day as both, me and my husband are working. This is routine, ever since he was born. And yes, if I say I am lucky and blessed, I must definitely say, my son is very much lucky and blessed....for no other person can take such good care than his own grandparents. And there is much much more....the values they inbibe, their not so fast paced life like ours and lots and lots of love. Thanks to you mom and dad for everything you did for us and continue doing for your grandchild.

My husband and I raised our Great-granddaughters for 8 months, they were age 1 and 2. Yes, each day we wondered when things would change and they would be sent back to their unwed mommy. We considered adoption if it came to it. We're not young, but it was a stable environment for them. They have returned to their mommy, but thanks be to God that they visit at least once a week now, and the youngest usually wants to spend the night. Yes, we did, and still do, baths then story-time, then prayers at bedtime. It's part of a routine that each of us truly enjoys. I know we were an influence in their lives, but they brought us so much joy, even with the restless nights and the heartache of seeing them go. Totally well worth it and, after all, this is what God has called us to do....minister to others, especially family. Oh, and, the frosting on the cake was they got to know their Great-Great Grandma (who spoiled them) before she was called home. And to this day they go by her old house and say Great Great Grandma is in heaven! What a blessing!

He is definitely worth it and will always have deep love for you. Thanks for being such wonderful grandparents to him!

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