Have you ever sat back and thought about the meaning of the word, “family” or maybe what the word means to you? Historically, we know that the word ‘family’ was composed of what we now refer to as the “nuclear” or “traditional family”—which consisted of a husband, wife, a couple of children, and maybe a dog or two. However, families come in all shapes and sizes, and often do not fit this “traditional norm”. Families can be composed in a variety of ways, including two moms or two dads raising children together, grandparents raising their grandchildren, a single-parent household, a couple with no children but their fur-baby—even a group of friends who have built and established an emotional bond with one another over the years. Let’s explore what a modern family can look like, and some of the challenges they face.
Families with Parents with Disabilities:
Throughout the years, a narrative has been created that portrays parents with disabilities as being unfit and lacking the ability to raise their children. In fact, individuals believed so much in this narrative that most literature and research on the topic focuses solely on the relationship between the parents’ disability and the negative effects the disability could cause on the child’s well-being. Parents with disabilities often face significant hardships set in place by laws and policies, the child welfare system, and society itself, creating significant barriers to starting and/or keeping their families, or even having parental rights at all. Parents with disabilities face a significantly higher risk of having their children removed from their care, with the rate being as high as 70-80% for psychiatric disabilities and 40-80% for intellectual disabilities1.
Thankfully, in recent years, we are beginning to see the narrative change a bit. Although parents with disabilities still lack representation in mainstream media due to stigmatization, there has been progress in creating more inclusive spaces and facilitating conversations within various communities. It is believed that with the right support systems and resources, families composed of one or more parents with disabilities can thrive just as well as families composed of able-bodied parents. With the help of using a wide range of adaptive strategies—such as home modifications, using or creating accessible baby care equipment, etc.—parents with disabilities have found ways to make caring for their babies easier. As they grow older, children raised in homes with parents with disabilities are introduced to developing life skills sooner, tend to be more self-sufficient, showcase typical development and functioning, and often have more enhanced life perspectives.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren:
Grandparents slipping into the shoes of parents once more to raise their grandchildren is a familial dynamic we are beginning to see more and more today. In fact, it’s becoming so common that there are even a couple of names for it, “kinship care” or “relative care”. Whereas the typical grandparent role requires a less hands-on approach and allows the grandparents to be there as supports (the occasional babysitting, vacations, etc.), kinship or relative care requires a more direct approach from the grandparents that is centered more in the day-to-day responsibilities for the children. This includes balancing schedules, helping with homework, pick-up and drop-offs for school, tending to home needs (such as meals, chores, etc.), and the children’s physical and mental health.
Grandparents raising their grandchildren has been shown to provide many positive attributes, including:
- A deeper connection into your grandchild’s life
- Feeling younger and more child-like
- The feeling of great pride and satisfaction knowing you provide a safe, nurturing, and secure home for your grandchild.
Although there are quite a few rewards that come with raising their grandchildren, grandparents who have found themselves back into the role of full-time parents face many challenges. Some of these challenges include:
- Financial- because many grandparents live on limited pensions and retirement funds, a huge stressor that grandparents face is the financial burden of being the primary caregiver of their grandchild. This particular challenge can be an even bigger stressor in situations where the grandparents do not have legal custody or guardianship over their grandchild(ren).
- Legal hurdles- grandparents often face challenges obtaining custody of their grandchildren, enrolling them into school, or accessing medical records.
- Physical and Mental Health- while some grandparents may feel a sense of youthfulness while raising their grandchildren, others may experience limited energy and physical health problems. Additionally, grandparent caregivers are often not afforded the opportunity to have breaks from raising their grandchildren, not even from the parents.
There are several ways a grandparent can become a full-time parent to their grandchildren, such as parents’ work or lifestyle changes, divorce, substance abuse, or death. It’s important to consider these circumstances as they may contribute to some of the challenges the grandparents and child may face.
There is still much progress to be made in creating inclusive systems to support different types of families. As our society continues to navigate the complexities of modern families, it’s clear that every family needs a village. Lending our support to each other, whether they’re a friend, family member, or stranger, is our first step to being the change we want to see in the world.
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Writer: Tamiah Daniel, BSW
Content Expert Reviewers: Erin Gill and Mike Patton, MSW