How Alabama churches can minister to grandparents raising grandchildren

How Alabama churches can minister to grandparents raising grandchildren

By Denise George
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Tom and Glenda Thompson, members of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, became legal guardians for their 2-year-old grandson, Andrew, 19 years ago when their daughter was unable to raise him. While a good experience, the Thompsons, now 70 years old, admit they faced some challenges as grandparents rearing a grandchild.

“As ‘empty nesters,’ we had already changed our lifestyle and had gotten accustomed to the freedom and flexibility to do things together,” Tom Thompson said. “We looked forward to just having each other instead of our lives rotating around our children.”

Even though in good health, Thompson admits to physical and energy adjustments in becoming a “parent” again. “There’s a reason God doesn’t give babies to 50 year olds,” he said with a laugh. “Physically we were not where we were at 30.”

Emotionally supportive

A retired businessman with BellSouth and a 10-year former staff member at Dawson, Thompson actively involved Andrew with him in church worship and youth programs. The family found Dawson’s members emotionally supportive, encouraging and helpful.

“Members made affirming comments to us,” he said. And church families with children Andrew’s age took interest in taking Andrew with them for outings, giving the Thompsons a break.

Andrew is now 21 years old, well adjusted and a senior in college. “Andrew is biologically our grandson,” Thompson said, “but in every other sense, he is our son.”

Grandparents raising grandchildren is a growing trend in Alabama and across the nation.

Nationwide, 7.8 million children live with grandparents or other relatives with more than 5.8 million children living in grandparents’ homes. More than 2.5 million grandparents take primary responsibility for these children.

Grandparents must often step in and care for grandchildren (either part-time or full-time) when their own grown children are ill or deceased, living with domestic violence, mentally ill and/or disabled, addicted to substances, homeless, incarcerated, deployed, abusive and/or neglectful, divorcing, irresponsible or otherwise not capable of caring for their children.

Rearing grandchildren comes with challenges that can cause financial, physical and legal difficulties for older adults.

The church can minister to this often-overlooked church group by supporting, helping and encouraging grandparents

and their grandchildren.

How to help

• Search out grandparents in your congregation who need help financially. Some are impoverished and others might be struggling to live and raise young children on a fixed income.

• Help them find church, community and federal programs that can offer help and support.

• Help them work through the maze of medical, educational and legal forms they will be required to fill out.

• Help them in practical ways such as with child care, meal preparation, transportation to doctor’s appointments, selecting school supplies, shopping for children’s school clothes, etc.

• Involve “grandfamilies” in church programs that will help, support and encourage them and their grandchildren.

Providing resources

• Provide seminars, guest speakers and resources that will address some of the many problems they face. Provide child care in the church during these events.

• Start a grandparent support group that meets on a regular schedule and brings together grandparents rearing grandchildren for resources, information and fellowship.

• Encourage church families with children to “adopt” a family where grandparents are raising the grandchildren. Include them on fun events, vacations, shopping trips, etc.

• Pray for and with grandparents and their grandchildren. Let them know they are a vital part of the church.


Be aware of potential difficulties

• Change of lifestyle: Grandparenting grandchildren can be unexpected and can interrupt or cancel retirement plans/dreams. Grandparents may be angry and resentful with their grown children for putting them in this position. Grandparents may also be caring for their elderly parents. Taking in grandchildren may mean finding a larger house, moving, difficult transitions and more financial strain.

• Age-related health problems: A grandparent may suffer poor health, chronic illness or a disability that limits the mobility needed to rear a child. Older adults need great strength and stamina to raise children. They may also worry about what will happen to the children when they become debilitated and/or die.

• Stress and exhaustion: Caring for a child 24/7 and year-round is stressful as well as physically and emotional exhausting, especially for older grandparents. They also may be anxious, angry, embarrassed over the situation and dealing with their grown children’s problems.

Medical issues

• Complicated medical situations: A traumatized or abused child may need specific medical help, regular medications and expensive counseling and therapy. The child may have behavioral problems that are difficult for an older adult to manage.

• Complicated legal situations: Legal arrangements might include adoption, guardianship, foster parent status and/or caregiver’s authorization. Adopting a grandchild can be confusing, financially draining and require extensive paperwork.

• Poverty and Fixed Incomes: The estimated cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610, not including pregnancy or college expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Some grandparents aren’t able to take on additional and often heavy expenses. (Denise George)


Websites, programs provide insight for grandparents raising grandchildren

Financial assistance website

Legal assistance websites

Programs in Alabama that can help

Supplemental nutrition assistance program
• Alabama Food Assistance Division, 334-242-1700,,

(Compiled by Denise George)


A look at grandparents raising grandchildren in Alabama

• 63,529 Alabama grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren.
• 148,127 children live in a grandparent’s or relative’s home (13 percent of all children under age 18 in Alabama).
• 55 percent of the grandparents are white, 42 percent are black and 2 percent are Hispanic/Latino and other races.
• 45 percent have no parents of the children present in the home.
• 70 percent of grandparents are under age 60.
• 24 percent live in poverty.

(Source: AARP)