Tips for Grandfamilies: When Seniors Are Head of the Family Household

There are more than 2.5 million grandparents, a third of whom are over 60 years old living in grandfamilies. In almost one third of these families, affecting over one million children, the parents are absent and grandparents are solely responsible for their grandchildren. It is reported that these seniors have typically been responsible for their grandchildren for more than five years.

What is a Grandfamily?

A grandfamily is a type of arrangement in which a family is headed by grandparents. These senior adults share their homes and lives with their children, grandchildren or other family members such as nieces and nephews. Many seniors are assisting with caregiving or the subject of caregiving. This term has in the past specifically referred to the instance when grandparents were responsible for raising relative children but is now beginning to include those multi-generational households where caregiving is required for the whole family and the task is shared.

Grandfamilies can be found in all income levels, races and ethnicities, and all areas of the country.

Why is This Happening?

With the recent downturn in the economy, we are finding more families looking for solutions to care for all members of the family and have adopted this non-traditional (for Americans in current times, at least) family lifestyle. It is also another way in which family caregivers can more efficiently care for their aging loved ones. Grandparents are also being asked to raise their grandchildren in the absence of their own children for a multitude of reasons, often at a time in their lives when they are planning to slow down or even physically need to slow down.

What are the Benefits for Families?

There are many benefits from which extended, multi-generational family households can benefit by living together.

One big benefit is that often times the home of the senior has been paid off, thereby decreasing the living expenses of the younger people in this arrangement. Due to the economy and home foreclosure rate, this is a welcome solution for many families – especially in the short term – and likely to extend into the long term as it benefits the senior.

The second is that healthy seniors can provide child care and oversight for the grandchildren and other family relatives in the house. This allows the family members to work freely outside the home without the expense of childcare or babysitting. In the absence of parents, the grandparents can provide a safe haven for children.

A third benefit is that the family is together. Everyone in the family is being cared for in whatever manner is required. The seniors also are role models and guides for the younger generation living amongst them, which may not appear to all participants to be a benefit, but will likely be seen that way in the years to come when the children look back on the wisdom and love that was imparted by their grandparents – often missing in today’s long distance families.

What Problems Might be Experienced?

Having to give up their privacy and personal space at this point in their life may be a stressful situation for many seniors. If their retirement plans become derailed, it may be a negative outcome with some lifelong dreams being put on hold yet again and possibly forever.

There may also be a stressful financial burden placed upon the seniors, who now must support children and grandchildren. Their health may be failing, with chronic medical needs also placing a financial burden on their nest egg. Stress could also increase the likelihood of development of, or worsen a current, chronic medical condition.

Grandparents, seniors, are often isolated from resources that might help not only themselves in a grandfamily but also the children for whom they care, such as programs, benefits and laws.

Tips for Seniors & Families Who Become Grandfamilies

  1. Seniors and their family members should review carefully their current finances and budgets, looking at long term financial options. The seniors’ retirement funding needs to be protected, as they may inadvertently drain their savings and be left with nothing to care for themselves and their aging health.
  2. One expert advises that seniors do not dip into the principal of their retirement income but instead set up a plan where they only use the earnings for living expenses.
  3. Seniors are cautioned to spend only that amount of money which is in excess of their living expenses and budget and not use their medication money on “spoiling” the grandchildren.
  4. Seek financial advice from a specialist who can advise seniors and their families about certain options, such as setting up a trust to ensure their finances are protected.
  5. Seniors should not discontinue their life insurance, especially if they are the primary caregiver for their grandchildren. If that is the case and the grandchild has special needs, establishing a special needs trust and Medicaid benefits plan will assist this child with his or her future medical needs in the event of the senior being unable to provide care.
  6. If a senior becomes the primary caregiver for any grandchildren in the absence of their parents, be sure the legal paperwork is completed granting rights and responsibilities so that legal guardianship is complete and the grandparents have the ability to take any actions that are needed.

Links for More Information

The joy of being together as a family and helping each member as a collaborative is undeniable, but we all must be aware and get prepared for not only the joys but also the pitfalls that this arrangement can bring.

Do you have a grandfamily story you can share to help others learn from your experience? We’d love to hear from you!