The coronavirus pandemic has prematurely taken the lives of so many older adults leaving families with a void in their everyday existence and especially during times of celebration. But not all the losses have been elderly grandparents, a substantial number of children have lost a parent to COVID-19, and many grandfamilies have been created as grandparents have been called upon to step in to raise their grandchild or grandchildren.
During the height of the pandemic, grandparents were of huge help to their adult children pitching in with childcare and homeschooling when learning and work quickly pivoted to virtual classrooms and meeting spaces. But taking on the permanent and full-time role as a parent can present many challenges to grandparents, and drastically change retirement plans.
According to a recent New York Times report, the COVID Collaborative estimated in December 2021 that about 167,000 American children lost a parent or primary caregiver to the pandemic – with much higher rates in communities of color.
Grandparents often are needed to provide childcare when a parent becomes ill or injured, is incarcerated, is deployed by the military, or struggles with substance abuse. Caring for grandchildren requires not only a financial commitment, but older adults may be strained physically caring for their own health issues while keeping up with the demands of child care, transportation, education, and all the new concerns of raising a child in 2022.
Grief counseling and support groups can be invaluable for families navigating the loss of a child’s primary caregiver, and may also help grandparents cope with their new role and responsibilities. The National Alliance for Children’s Grief provides a list of resources for children, teens, and their families in the United States, Canada, and Switzerland. Bereavement Camps help grieving children who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or primary caregiving develop coping skills, reframe the experience, and move forward with a sense of hope.
There are also many government-funded programs to assist grandparents raise children. Educational, health care, housing, and financial assistance resources can help ease some of the burdens on older adults. Learn more by visiting grandfamilies.org.