CHEER, Inc., in partnership with the Division of Services for the Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities through funding for the Caregiver Resource Center, is sponsoring monthly support meetings for seniors who are helping to raise a loved one’s children. Nationally, 4.5 million children are living in grandparent-headed households. There are also another 1.5 million children in the United States who are living in households headed by other relatives. That is why, CHEER has chosen to call its program, Families Raising Families (FRF). CHEER’s program is based upon the principles of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Workgroup of service providers that are dedicated to connecting caregivers to resources in their communities.
The first meeting of CHEER’s FRF was recently held at the CHEER Community Center in Georgetown. Caregivers and children gathered for a delicious dinner before separating for the evening’s program. Children were attended to in another room by qualified CHEER staff who entertained them with games and crafts. The adults joined in a discussion headed by Myra Neal-Sampson from Child, Inc. in Wilmington concerning “Disciplining Children.”
Founded in 1972, Child, Inc.’s mission is to be the leading advocate for Delaware’s children. It provides creative prevention and treatment programs that meet the changing needs of families. The organization was originally incorporated in 1963 as the Boys Home. Today, Child, Inc. provides an array of programs for children and families, including counseling, foster care, parent education, shelters, and domestic violence.
Ms. Neal told the group of senior caregivers that they must be able to understand the development of the adolescent brain in order to understand their child’s behavior. She explained that the first part of the brain to develop is called the Amygdala. Because emotions are processed in the amygdala, it is sometimes referred to as The Emotional Brain. It does not control thinking. That part is the more developed adult brain called the Frontal Cortex. Although this area does develop slowly throughout childhood, the biggest jump in development happens during adolescence. Once fully developed, the frontal cortex can suppress the impulsive, reactive behaviors of amygdala.
Young children are acting from their amygdala. They tend to be more impulsive, reactive and emotional. They often lack good judgment and don’t think about the consequences of their behavior. They can be unreasonable and irrational. Brain development is not complete until the mid-twenties. Patience and understanding is important when dealing with children because mistakes will happen. The teen brain is a work in progress.
Ms. Neal also talked about how expectations of children’s behavior has changed through the decades. “What now is considered expressing their opinion, was considered ‘talking back’ when you were growing up,” she told the caregivers. “But you must teach them how to disagree appropriately. Therefore, don’t hold back on the rules. If you do, it is just setting them up for failure.”
Other issues brought up during open discussion was the interference of biological parents who may not agree with the caregiver’s rules. Ms. Neal said this only gives mixed signals to the children and that confusion can cause devastation for the children who need structure and responsibility in their developing years. She urged the caregivers to stay strong and be grateful that they were able to take in their children. “Where would they be without you?” she asked. “But you must let them know that (because of them) your life changed too.”
One grandmother in attendance at CHEER’s Families Raising Families support meeting was grateful for the discussion with other seniors facing the same challenges as her. She was also very happy to have a place to go and receive some help. “Discussion is always helpful,” the grandmother said. “We need more positive action because this situation (seniors raising other’s children) is becoming an issue in the senior population.”
Seniors are raising children for a variety of reasons, including family crises and other sociopolitical issues. Being a surrogate parent presents several challenges centering on legal matters, financial difficulties, parenting challenges, physical and mental health limitations, loss of social connections, stressful family relationships, and accessing services. CHEER plans to address each of these issues and more during future FRF support meetings.
The next meeting will be on Monday, March 28th at 5:30 p.m. The guest speaker will be Andrea Waters, LCSW, JSOCC from Pathways To Success. Two monthly meeting are scheduled for the group. Lunchtime meetings for just the caregivers will be held on the second Wednesday of each month from 12 noon til 1 p.m. Evening family meetings will be held the last Monday of each month from 5:30 til 7:30 p.m. All meetings will take place at the CHEER Community Center at 20520 Sand Hill Road, off Route 9, east of Georgetown. More details can be obtained by calling the CHEER Community Resources Coordinator Christie Shirey, at 302-515-3040.