By Lisa Shrewsberry
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.
Todd Kirby, a Beckley family law attorney who has practiced in southern West Virginia over the last year, never dreamed a large portion of his clientele would be grandparents seeking adoptions. Often times, his preparation of a will or property settlement leads to a discussion involving grandparents providing all the care for their grandchildren, mature couples expressing they feel at the mercy of their own unstable children.
“Most grandparents don’t think they have any rights. They do have rights, especially as the primary caretakers,” states Kirby. When they discover those rights, it is bittersweet, he explains. They get excited that they can take control, where oftentimes their children have used the grandchildren as pawns, withholding visitation for financial gain or support of their habits, creating elaborate emotional guilt trips.
Yet, they face the difficulty of testifying to their son’s or daughter’s gross inadequacy as a parent. That, says Kirby, is the hardest part.
Formalizing adoption has two distinct advantages: 1. It provides stability for the child and 2. It empowers the grandparents to make decisions for the child without fear of pressure from the biological parents.
“As a grandparent, once you make it official, you call the shots,” Kirby explains.
Beverly considers her relatively new position as mother to three a blessing. She has heard that when people pass her house and see the yard littered with toys, they send up prayers for her. She appreciates the supplications and believes they’re getting through.
There is no doubt now that her son was Andrianna’s natural father.
“She’s the spitting image of him,” she maintains. Andrianna, so far, bears no trace of the serious effects of her mother’s drug abuse, miraculously surpassing expectations.
Beverly has proposed “Andrianna’s Law” twice to the West Virginia Legislature, a measure pushing for drug testing of all newborns for intervention before they are handed over to their addicted parents. It hasn’t come close to making it out of committee, but Beverly believes her efforts and the support of at least one medical professional have significantly increased testing at individual hospitals.
In addition to accidental lobbyist, Beverly is also loudly and proudly Andrianna, Gabriel and Jacob’s mom. Just ask the people seated in front of her on the bleachers when one of her kids scores or when the referee had his eyes closed on a call.
Describing herself as the World’s Oldest Cheerleader, she views raising children inside her golden years more as a fountain of youth than a deterrent to the good life. “I can’t do a cartwheel anymore, but I can roll around on the floor.”
In school sports circles or in the grocery store, when she hears others half her age complaining about their many responsibilities, Beverly has to laugh to herself. “I have a (birth) certificate that says I gave birth at 57.”
Top that, soccer moms.