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Published December 28, 2010, 12:00 AM

More Fargo-Moorhead grandparents are raising their grandchildren full time

Blake Lane, a dimple-cheeked, well-spoken ball of energy, wanted the reporter in his Fargo home to take a stab at guessing his age. “Mom, did you have to give it away?” the chatty 10-year-old said when he discovered Sharon Lane had already told his secret. If you didn’t know the situation, the word “mom” might have given you pause.

Blake Lane, a dimple-cheeked, well-spoken ball of energy, wanted the reporter in his Fargo home to take a stab at guessing his age.

“Mom, did you have to give it away?” the chatty 10-year-old said when he discovered Sharon Lane had already told his secret.

If you didn’t know the situation, the word “mom” might have given you pause. Blake has been referring to Lane that way for some time even though, at 61 years of age, she hardly fits the mold of the typical mother, and, biologically speaking, Blake is her grandson.

“He came (to stay with me) when he was 18 months old,” says Lane, who is widowed and works with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

Lane tells of both the joys and challenges that go with being a parent again and rearing one’s own grandchild. It’s a story that many in our region could tell.

According to recently released estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS), 498 grandparents in Cass and Clay counties are responsible for the care of grandchildren. That’s just slightly higher than the 481 such cases recorded in the 2000 census.

And, as Lane knows, it’s not a task for the faint of heart.

She adopted Blake in 2004. Her daughter, Blake’s mother, has dealt with a number of issues, Lane says, and couldn’t care for him. Lane says taking Blake in was “pretty daunting.” There have been particular challenges in her situation. Blake has experienced struggles with asthma, ear infections and aggression toward other children. Lane says it was “kind of overwhelming.”

Then there’s the very down-to-earth issue of simply mustering enough energy to keep up with a 10-year-old dynamo.

And, with a child to care for, life doesn’t go unaltered.

“It changed how things were,” she says.

Grandparents who become caregivers a second time are likely to have to deal with some unexpected changes in plans and/or lifestyle. Travel may have to be delayed or given up. Friendships may need to go on the back burner.

“You’re no longer a grandparent; you’re a parent,” says Jim Martini, clinical supervisor for Village Family Service Center in Grand Forks, who oversees a support group for grandparents raising grandchildren.

Lane knows about such things firsthand. She sees people taking vacations or going out to eat at the last minute, and she knows there are things like that that she is missing.

In some cases, parenting grandparents may gain a son or daughter, but they can also feel cheated by the situation, as they lose that joyful, doting role that grandparents typically fill.

“They lose the fun of being a grandparent,” Martini says.

Deb Mallick of Moorhead can relate to that sense of being cheated in terms of the grandparent-grandchild relationship. She cares for two of her granddaughters. The girls are 7 and 12 years old. Mallick says their mother has had issues that interfered with parenting.

Mallick says it’s harder to be the disciplinarian and set boundaries with grandchildren than with biological children. She has to remind herself that “I need to do this for her own well-being.”

“Grandpa’s a little easier than me,” she says. “He always has been.”

There are other potential issues as well.

“The age issue also comes into play,” Martini says.

Grandparents may not be as aware of the cultural shifts as younger parents would be. For example, Martini says most grandparents are not aware of the violence and sexual content present in many video games and popular music.

But, despite the challenges, Lane and Mallick say they have no regrets.

Lane says her life is absolutely better for Blake being with her. She calls him “such a joy” and savors those moments of childhood joy he brings to her life. She remembers times that he’s come her, kissed her and expressed gratitude to her for things “out of the blue.”

In her view, it was no accident that she and Blake adopted one another.

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” she says.

Mallick has gained a great deal as well. She says that she and the two girls are very close.

“They’re like my daughters,” she says.

Mallick recently went to a parent-teacher conference at her 7-year-old granddaughter’s school. Children had created crafts focusing on people they look up to.

Hanging on the wall was one on which her granddaughter had drawn Mallick’s picture. Above it were the words “My hero.” That one now hangs in their home.

“I don’t have any regrets; we don’t have any regrets,” she says. “They’re ours, and that’s just how we think of it.”

People tell her she’s going to have a place in heaven for what she’s doing. Her feeling is: “I’m doing what’s right.”

“What needed to be done is what we’re doing,” she says.

Lane also made her decision based on what she believed was best for the child involved. And, despite his youth, Blake seems to already have an appreciation for what she’s done for him.

Putting his arm around Lane, Blake said, once she “came into my life, it changed my whole life.”

‘Grand’ parents

Estimates of the number of grandparents in the metro area responsible for the care of grandchildren who are under the age of 18:

METRO-AREA CITIES

  • Fargo: 284
  • West Fargo: 11
  • Moorhead: 12
  • Dilworth: 11

METRO-AREA COUNTIES

  • Cass: 441
  • Clay: 57

Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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