I recently became engaged to John. We’re both in our early 60s and were looking forward to some stable time together after having been married several times (me twice, John 3 times). My daughter, Joanna, a single mom, has an opioid addiction and is about to lose her son, Andrew, who is 3 years old. I don’t want to see my grandson enter the foster care system and I would like to take him in. John is really opposed to this, saying he’s gone through the child-rearing and was looking forward to a quiet retirement (he retires in two years) and fears that a kid who’s a handful will disrupt our relationship and our lives together. I know he’s right about that but I’m so torn about wanting the first truly stable relationship I’ve had with wanting to provide a loving environment for my grandson while my daughter recovers. We’re not wealthy and cannot afford full-time childcare since we both work (I’d have to quit my job and I’m also two years away from retiring with full benefits). I’m so torn and don’t know what to do.
Dr. Chalmer answers:
Debra, what a difficult situation! I can only imagine how painful it’s been to cope with your daughter’s addiction, and then to add the possibility of your grandson’s having to go into the foster care system is heart-rending.
Debra, as you know, this is unfortunately an increasingly common dilemma. And you’re feeling torn for good reason: there’s no great solution to this. Even if John were on board, taking on a three-year-old in your 60s is a daunting prospect. But your misgivings about your grandson going into foster care are, all too often, well-founded. And, of course, you recognize that John’s fears about how taking on a child might affect your relationship are valid–you share those concerns.
So what do you do when you’re in a situation that has no clear solution?
Well, this is where my seven-word formula can serve as a guideline: be kind, don’t panic, and have faith. Start with the last part–have faith that somehow, you’ll find a way through this, even though you don’t yet know how, because you’ve had other struggles in your life and learned from them. The serenity prayer from 12-step programs is all about that kind of faith–you’ve probably encountered it. When you accept the situation and work with it, you’ll be able to consider your options without panic. When you approach the problem with an open heart, realizing you can’t solve everything, you’ll find a way through it.
Don’t try to solve this alone–and your reaching out with your question tells me you already know that. Talk to other grandparents in similar situations if you haven’t already. Talk to the social worker(s) involved with your grandson to see what the options might be. There may be options in between full-time caregiving and losing Andrew to foster care. I’m guessing from your description that there aren’t other family members available, but with or without other family, consider what support (respite or the like) might be available if you decide to take on the role of Andrew’s primary caregiver.
And, of course, you’ll need to work with John on this decision. Recognize that the two of you are in very different positions in this. If you can tolerate the anxiety of being honest with each other it could turn out that working through this will deepen your trust and strengthen your relationship, or it could turn out to be a deal-breaker. Couples therapy could be helpful–I’ve worked with couples in similar situations, and it’s often helped them find their way through.
Readers, please share your experiences. Are you a grandparent in a similar circumstance? What has helped you?