University of Illinois Extension

When Your Grandchild Becomes a Parent

Cammy Seguin, Family Life Educator

Many family situations challenge today's grandparents. Finding out that your single daughter or granddaughter is pregnant can be one of those challenges. You might have been looking forward to becoming a traditional grandparent someday, but now you find that you are co-parenting and raising your grandchild instead. That just wasn't the way you thought it would be.

How you approach grandparenting often depends on your age, experience and readiness. A 38-year-old grandparent with two pre-teens still at home will have different feelings than 58-year-old grandparents who have had more life experiences and more free time available. On the other hand, younger grandparents may have more energy to attend to the needs of the grandchild than older ones.

Cultural differences also affect how you view your new role as parent, co-parent, or grandparent.

In her book, Continuity and Change in the American Family, Suzanne Bianchi notes that young black adults tend to believe that grandparents should have a parental role in rearing grandchildren. Mexican-American grandparents believe they have an important function in helping raise their grandchildren. Asian-American families are more likely to believe that children belong to the entire extended family. In contrast, young white adults feel that grandparents should maintain contact, but leave the parenting role to the parent. So, it appears that white families may have the most difficulty in working through their roles when the family situation doesn't fit their expectations.

Grandparents who are raising an adolescent grandchild might also find that an unexpected pregnancy is going to make them great-grandparents.

Consequently, there may be another generation to raise. The role of the grandparent who is caring for a grandchild and great-grandchild can become unclear. Great-grandparents can help by providing food and shelter, child care, and parenting advice.

Life doesn't always go as planned. An unexpected pregnancy can bring new burdens and challenges to parenting grandparents. But, grandparents of all ages often report that although they didn't know how they were going to manage, they were able to find the energy and resources to assist each generation.

Bianchi, Suzanne M. 2002. Continuity and Change in the American Family. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.