In partnership with the Delaware Division of Services for the Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities through funding from the Caregiver Resource Center, CHEER sponsors monthly support meetings for seniors who are helping to raise the children of a loved one.
The next meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, March 28. The guest speaker will be Andrea Waters, LCSW, JSOCC of Pathways To Success.
Nationally, 4.5 million children live in households headed by grandparents. There are also an additional 1.5 million children in the United States who live in households headed by other parents. That’s why CHEER has chosen to call its program Families Raising Families. CHEER’s program is based on the principles of the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Task Force of service providers who are dedicated to connecting caregivers to the resources of their communities.
The first meeting of CHEER’s Families Raising Families was held recently at the CHEER Community Center in Georgetown. Caregivers and children gathered for a delicious dinner before splitting up for the evening’s program. The children were cared for in another room by trained CHEER staff who entertained them with games and crafts. Adults joined in a discussion led by Myra Neal-Sampson of Child, Inc. in Wilmington regarding child discipline.
Founded in 1972, Child Inc.’s mission is to be the leading advocate for children in Delaware. It offers creative prevention and treatment programs that meet the changing needs of families. Child, Inc. offers a range of programs for children and families, including counseling, foster care, parent education, shelters and domestic violence.
Neal told the group of senior carers of children that they need to be able to understand adolescent brain development 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 called the emotional brain. It does not control thought. This part is the most developed adult brain called the frontal cortex. Although this area develops slowly throughout childhood, the biggest leap in development occurs during adolescence. Once fully developed, the frontal cortex can suppress impulsive and reactive behaviors from the amygdala.
Young children act from their amygdala. They tend to be more impulsive, reactive and emotional. They often lack judgment and do not 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 are important when dealing with children because mistakes will happen. The adolescent brain is a work in progress.
Neal also explained how expectations for children’s behavior have changed over the decades. “What is now considered to be speaking their mind, was considered ‘responding’ when you were growing up,” she said. “But you have to teach them to disagree appropriately. Therefore, do not hold back on the rules. If you do, it only sets them up for failure.
Other issues raised in the open discussion were the interference of biological parents who may not agree with the rules of the caregiver. Neal said this gives only mixed signals to children and the confusion can be devastating for children who need structure and responsibility in their developmental years. She urged caregivers to stay strong and be grateful that they were able to welcome their children. “Where would they be without you? ” she says. “But you have to let them know that (because of them) your life has also changed.”
A grandmother at the CHEER 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 to receive help. “Discussion is always useful,” said the grandmother. “We need more positive action because this situation [seniors raising others’ children] becoming a problem in the elderly population
Older people raise children for a variety of reasons, including family crises and other socio-political issues. Being a surrogate parent presents several challenges centered around legal issues, financial difficulties, parenting challenges, physical and mental health limitations, loss of social connections, stressful family relationships, and access to services. CHEER plans to address each of these issues and more at future FRF support meetings.
Two monthly meetings are planned for the group. Midday meetings reserved for carers will be held from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month. Evening family meetings will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the last Monday of each month. All meetings will be held at the CHEER Community Center at 20520 Sand Hill Road, off Route 9, east of Georgetown.
For more details, call CHEER Community Resource Coordinator Christie Shirey at 302-515-3040.