Kinship caregiving is challenging enough when things are “good”, but when life gives us setbacks, it becomes even more challenging. I am feeling discouraged by my lack of employment, lack of health insurance, lack of any program assistance, the unresolved learning issues my grandson is experiencing and – his mom was arrested and is in a treatment program, meaning she is “back” which brings another set of challenges. We know one of the goals of child welfare is “permanency planning”. In treatment, the hope is always the parent will reunite with their child(ren). She is back to consistent contact with my grandson after two years of very sporadic contact – in person or by phone. Imagine how that must feel to a child and the mixed feelings they feel when a parent continually drops in and out of their life.
Let’s begin with financial challenges.
In January 2012 I resigned from my job with an employer I was with for ten years. I wanted to focus on completing my graduate degree and it was too much stress to work fulltime, parent, and be a fulltime student. I recognized the stress was too much, so I made the decision to resign. I finished my education and then accepted a fulltime, benefits position which lasted from May through November 2012. The job ended, which I did not see coming. I was unemployed from December 2012 through the end of March 2013, when I accepted a temporary position without benefits because I needed income. My temporary position ended a few weeks ago. I am back to being unemployed.
Given all these periods of unemployment, I drained my savings and the small retirement fund I had – not a unique situation for many kinship caregivers. I am currently receiving unemployment, child support and my grandson receives SSI for $330 per month – a reduced amount because of the child support. So, that is my income.
My rent if $895 per month. I pay for electric, heat, internet and phone. I have six months left of a car payment. I have student loan payments. I take medications, which cost nearly $300 per month because I do not have insurance. Add to these expenses are the typical food and household items needed, car insurance, and gas. School has started, so there were additional expenses of clothes and supplies. Things are financially-speaking difficult – not uncommon for many kinship caregivers.
I want to give you an example of the difference between being a relative foster parent (overseen by the state) and a being a legal guardian of my grandson – not a kinship foster family. When I completed my grandson’s paperwork for free or reduced lunch, I was denied. If my grandson where placed with me as a relative foster child, I would automatically qualify for free lunch and also discounts for certain school extracurricular activities. Is that fair?
Kinship caregivers with legal custody (e.g., guardianship, adoption) know we do like-for-like “work” as a kin foster parents and non-kin foster parents, yet we do not get the same entitlements (e.g., free lunch, paid daycare, parenting classes, an additional advocate for the child’s needs, respite services, etc.).
I do not qualify for food stamps because of my income. I don’t qualify for medical assistance for myself because of my income. I don’t qualify for free lunch because of my legal relationship. I don’t qualify for rental assistance because of my income. I don’t qualify for daycare assistance because of my legal relationship and income. I do not qualify for Minnesota’s relatives raising relative’s state grant because of my grandson’s SSI income and child support. I have no services for being a relative caregiver!
Despite these financial issues, one thing I can say is because I am not working and school has started, I feel like I now have some “breathing room” with my grandson being in all-day school. I haven’t had this feeling since October 31, 2008 when I started the fulltime “parenting” role for my grandson and he was only two years old. I feel so much less stress since I have more hours in the day to prepare meals, do homework, have “play time” with him, and get my chores and errands done.
Times are hard for everyone. I think it is important to remember this. We are not alone when we hit challenging life situations. It might seem like it, but we are not. I am very blessed indeed to not live in worn-torn countries, to worry about life and death situations on a daily basis. Sometimes I need a reality check. It is important to remember the blessings and focus on those – not the challenges. Things will work out because they always do. That is one of the benefits of age – we can look back and see that things always do work out. My circumstances will work out.
I have found so much of life is about my perspective or outlook – how I personally view a situation. I have choices. Feelings are just feelings and not facts of my life. The facts are, I have a healthy grandson who I love so much; I have a wonderful son and daughter-in-law, and two more grandsons; I have a decent place to live, a car that runs, unemployment benefits, and two cats. I have been learning to knit, which I find to be a very relaxing hobby and I actually produce something tangible – hats, scarves, etc. Things ARE good. I hope you also take time to count your blessings every single day, because they are there if you look.
Although things are challenging, I remain a grandma raising my grandson… and yes, it’s still all good.