A new sociological bird has landed on the endangered species list — the empty nester. While a few 30-somethings yet to find their place in the world linger in mom and dad’s basement beyond their welcome, more significant a phenomenon is the number of grandparents raising and even adopting their own grandchildren.
According to analysis of the 2000 U.S Census, over 2.4 million grandparents had parental responsibility for their grandchildren more than a decade ago. Where a child raised by one or more grandparents used to be a 1 in 100 occurrence, it is now easily 1 in 10.
Drug dependency is largely to blame for what may be America’s first abandoned generation, and the children of those of the Greatest Generation, post War progeny of 1945-1960, are finding themselves the last recourse for normal family life for their children’s children.
Raising kids after 60 would be impossible for some with physical limitations, undesirable for others holding onto traditional notions of retirement. But to mom-again Beverly Riling of Wyoming County, it is her great pleasure.
“People ask me if they’re my grandkids,” she states. “I say, No, they’re my great kids.”
Today she sits with lively Andrianna, her 5-year-old biological granddaughter, one of three grandchildren the 63-year-old has adopted with the help of husband, Andrew, also 63. The other children, boys Gabriel and Jacob, are ages 7 and 9. Beverly’s son, who died in a car accident in 2006, fathered the trio. He had been attempting recovery from addiction. His estranged wife, their biological mother, had a drug problem but had not sought treatment.
“You’d think when you go and have a third baby and your mother-in-law already has your other children, you’d say ‘Tie me to a tree, do something, whatever it takes to make me stop this’,” Beverly comments.
Unlike consenting and compulsive adults, Andrianna had no choice in her addiction. The baby was born dependent upon prescription painkillers fed to her through placental exchange within the womb. She and her mother tested positive at her birth for the presence of drugs. Having initiated testing under suspicion, the hospital would not allow Andrianna to leave in her mother’s care.
“They told me if I didn’t come and get her, they would put her in foster care,” remembers Beverly, who didn’t hesitate to receive her, even though she had no proof she was truly her flesh and blood.
“I knew she had two brothers … that much I was sure of.”
Doctors didn’t expect Andrianna to have full cognitive functioning and motor skills. Says Beverly, “She would beat herself. She lost weight from the shaking and trembling.”
The incessant crying of a drug-addicted baby also pushes addicted parents to the brink, believes the determined mother, a staunch advocate for mandatory drug testing at birth.
“An addicted parent can’t deal with the screaming and crying and shaking. They lose too much sleep until it’s time again for them to get their own fix.” Beverly, through her associations with other programs and families dealing with the fallout from addiction, has heard stories of parents doping their own children.
“All they have to do is let them lick their fingers after handling pills or let the baby kiss around where they snorted, and it’s enough to calm a newborn addicted baby.”
The television ads imploring dads to just walk away when babies won’t stop crying? “Addicts are not able to do that,” Beverly states.