In 2014, the Census Bureau reported that 2.7 million American households contained a co-residence of grandparents and grandchildren with the grandparent being the primary care giver. It is a trend that appears to be on the rise – not just nationally, but locally.
Norm and Carol Lewis of Marion, Ohio are living this new norm as they are raise their two grandsons, Isaiah (16), and Josh (14). The couple welcomed the boys into their home when they were two and four. Norm and Carol’s daughter, the boy’s mother, was battling drug addiction and they want to provide support for her to recover so she could have her sons back. Twelve years later, they are done waiting and actively parenting.
They did not just take on their daughter’s two sons. Joshs has a host of developmental delays including attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADH-D), autism, and behavioral challenges. They inherited more than they had bargained for. Through the years, they have been a wonderful natural support for the two boys. They have had some help from the Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities along the way and expressed great appreciation for Marion City Schools as well.
“The schools have been amazing with Josh,” Carol said. “He loves school and have seen so much improvement in him through the years.”
Marion County Board of Developmental Disabilities has noticed a trend within their caseload of grandparents raising their grandchildren with disabilities. “We currently have 18 people we serve who are living with, and primarily being cared for by at least one grandparent,” Julie Cummins, director of Service and Support Administration said. “That number is definitely increasing. We know it’s a lot to take on and we are grateful for the natural support they provide to those we serve.”
Family and Children First Council has also supported Norm and Carol with resources and guidance as they navigate the systems that are in place to help them support Josh.
Despite his challenges, Josh, has been a joy to the Lewis’s. For the most part, he is a loving child who appreciates them. They described him as a “[World Wrestling Entertainment] WWE-loving guy with a great sense of humor.”
Norm referred to him as his “shopping buddy” (they like to take trips to Wal-Mart) and spoke of him with admiration. “I probably give in to him a little more than I should, but he’s not had an easy life. I’m still a grandparent. Isn’t that my job to spoil my grandchildren?”
Carol nodded her head in agreement and said that Norm definitely wants to “baby Josh.” The couple has goals of increasing Josh’s independence and Carol noted that Norm’s sweet, soft nature might be impeding their progress in that area.
Norm reluctantly smiled, nodded, and agreed.
To add another layer of complexity to the situation, Norm has been battling cancer. The couple finds it challenging in the summer when the boys are home to go to doctor’s appointments and focus on Norm’s health. Friends and family help them and they manage to find a way.
Norm and Carol know their situation is not unique and told a story of Carol’s sister who is raising her grandchildren as well. The families try to help each other out as much as possible, but it’s exhausting.
“With Josh’s disabilities, we could never leave them home alone, which means we can never do anything together with just the two of us,” Carol said. “It’s hard. This is not how we envisioned our future.”
Their daughter, the boy’s mother, is in and out of the picture and is trying her best. They do not fault her. They still love her and want to support her recovery, but they do struggle with the relationships, the boundaries, and the level of support and rights they give to her.
The love that these grandparents have for Josh and Isaiah is apparent. Although they struggle with the blurred line of parent versus grandparent, they do the best they can to show the boys they are safe and loved.
The smile on Josh’s face when he squeezes in between the couple for a photo proves that he definitely feels their unconditional love.