SHERIDAN — “We moved into a community and knew nobody,” said Robin Ruff. “We didn’t fit into any group. We are in our 60s. Parents with 10-year-olds could be our own children. People our age don’t have children. We are really isolated.”
Robin and her husband, Roger, are two of the many Sheridan County grandparents raising their grandchildren. The grandparents responded to an invitation to gather and share their challenges and needs at the first monthly meeting for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren the Sheridan Senior Center has organized. Kelly Rickett, liaison for two Sheridan County School District 2 schools, saw that flyers went out to homes inviting grandparents and their grandchildren to the Nov. 18 meeting.
“When we were raising our granddaughter,” said Sandi Ziler at the meeting. “We didn’t know anything about respite or resources.” Ziler and her husband, Kermit, brought their 6-month-old granddaughter, Robyn, into their home to raise her. Kermit was working for the railroad at the time and was away long periods for work, so much of the work raising Robyn fell on Sandi for extended periods.
Many grandparents are not aware of what resources are available to them. One of the goals of the monthly meetings is to connect them.
“I became ill and was in the hospital for over four and a half months. Not one neighbor or friend reached out and offered to help for even an hour so we could get a break,” said Ziler. Kermit retired to care for his wife who is now in a wheelchair.
A number of grandparents in the audience nodded in response to Ziler.
Some of the grandparents shared how their grandchildren came to them. Their stories included adult children involved with drugs, incarcerated or who abandoned parenting responsibilities.
“There’s a lot of loneliness to raising a grandchild,” said Stella Montano, director of Family Caregiver Services at the Senior Center. “You don’t even know what ‘now’ things are out there for young children such as car seats or even the latest cartoons.
“I think a lot of the loneliness could be embarrassment of what your child has done and you don’t want people to know that. Some may hope that if they help their child out, they may straighten out,” Montano added.
Many grandparents raising grandchildren are doing so on fixed incomes without the benefit of income from work. Others are facing personal health challenges; Ziler came to the meeting in her wheelchair and another grandmother came on a crutch.
“I’ve fallen several times,” said great-great grandmother Frances Pinder. At age 84, Pinder is raising her great grandson, David. David, now 10, has been with his ‘gg’ — the name Pinder’s great grandchildren call her — since he was four months old.
“David’s very protective of his ‘gg,’” said Pinder. “He’s fearful if something happens to me that he would have to go live somewhere else.”
But the evening included stories of blessings as well. Attendee Tatiana Hom, now in her 20, shared her story of being raised by her grandparents. Hom later became the caregiver to her grandmother.
“She’s a beautiful young lady,” said one grandparent of Hom.
“I was surprised so many people were there, that there are so many people raising grandchildren,” said Pinder.
Ziler shared that her granddaughter went through a very difficult period growing up.
“But she’s grown into a beautiful person,” said Ziler. “She’s now 18 and wrote us a beautiful letter about why she is thankful.” Ziler’s granddaughter wrote to her about why she loved her grandmother.
Dinner was provided. After supper, the children participated in activities in another room while the adults met.
By the end of the evening, the dynamics of the attendees had changed.
“It was very different when they were leaving than when they came in,” said Montano. “They came in and sat at separate tables. After the meeting, they stayed to talk. They left in groups. I heard a number of the grandparents say to each other ‘see you next month if not sooner.’ They were networking.”
Ziler said, “It seemed like the natural thing to do, we wouldn’t let our grandchild go any other place. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.”