Grandparent Feature

Sharing Laughter Brings Support

By Emily Koeppel, B.A. and Lindsay Hornell, BSW, B.A.,
Graduate Research Assistants in Human Development & Family Studies,
Colorado State University

Gail, Joe and BrysonGail and her husband, Joe, first noticed their daughter, Casey, struggling with mental health issues when she was in her 20's. A few years after her diagnosis of bipolar disorder, Casey became pregnant. She found herself needing extra support from her parents because she would soon be a single mother of a little boy named Bryson. For the first three years, Casey and Bryson lived with Gail and Joe. During that time, Casey became pregnant and had her daughter, Rylee. Casey decided to move out of her parent's house and try to raise the two children on her own. With the stress of dealing with bipolar disorder and raising two children, Casey quickly found herself in a very overwhelming situation. Gail and Joe offered to take the children for one day a week. Within two months of moving out, Gail and Joe were watching Bryson and Rylee almost every day. It became apparent to Gail that Bryson was more comfortable at her house rather than at home with his mother. It was at this point that Gail did what was best for Bryson, and suggested to Casey that Bryson move in with her and her husband.

For Gail and Joe, the transition from grandparenting to parenting the second time around came with challenges. Physically, it is difficult for Gail and Joe to keep up with an active, now 5-year-old boy. "We had to ask a neighbor to teach Bryson how to ride a bike, because we aren't physically able to do that kind of stuff anymore." Financially, Gail and Joe constantly struggle with the financial responsibilities that come with raising a grandchild. Aside from basic care costs and schools fees, holidays and special activities became a daily burden. Gail also discussed how raising Bryson has taken a toll on her social life. Gail explained, "None of our friends want to hang out with us anymore because we have a 5 year old boy to bring along wherever we go." Gail and her husband's relationship also took a toll. With so much focus on raising Bryson, it is difficult for Gail and Joe to find time to spend together.

Although the transition came with challenges, raising Bryson has a lot of benefits for everyone. When Bryson first came to live with his grandparents, he struggled with anxiety, anger, and control issues. "He refused to wear buttons or snaps on his pants and shirts," Gail described. Within eight months of living with them, he started laughing, something he rarely did while he lived with his mom. Although still struggling with separation anxiety, Bryson has become a much happier, social, and energetic child. The positive changes in Bryson have been enough to reassure Gail and Joe that their choice to raise Bryson is worth the challenges.

When Gail first started caring for Bryson, she thought she was alone and had no idea where to get help. After finding about local support groups, Gail and Joe started attending groups in both Fort Collins and Loveland. "I don't know where we would be without those support groups." At these support groups, Gail's able to share her story, finds comfort from others who are going through similar situations, and learn about legal issues that come with raising grandchildren. Gail admits because they talk about things other than their problems, "the best thing of all that we get from the support groups is laughter." Although Gail has found support in the community and Bryson is doing very well, Gail still believes more resources would be helpful. Things like respite care, mentoring programs for grandchildren, and updated program curriculums are resources that Gail believes would improve her situation even more.

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