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For many lucky parents and children there are grandparents who will help out in an emergency, be on hand for occasional baby-sitting, and even take on day-care for a single parent or for parents who are both at work.

However, some grandparents find themselves in the situation of taking on, or having thrust upon them, the total care and upbringing of a grandchild. For me, this was one of the unexpected discoveries I made when researching my book Making and Breaking Families. Of course, I knew that there were grandparents in this situation, but it was a surprise that there were so many of them. I felt they were an unrecognized army who had been drafted or volunteered into the tricky status of parenting second time around. Often this came at a period when they may have been expecting a little more order and calm in their lives. It is one thing to be a caring grandparent with the knowledge that the children will return to their parents within a short time. But becoming a full-time parent with all that it entails, is quite a different matter.

I heard from grandparents who told me what had happened in their lives to make this come about. For this to happen to a family, it means there must have been a crisis. I heard of imprisonment, drug abuse, neglect, mental illness, and death of young parents which meant there were children to care for. The most difficult of all seemed to be when grandparents had to cope with a crisis brought about by a failure of their own child. This was especially so where this had this had been brought about by child sexual abuse or as a result of drug or alcohol abuse. Distraught grandparents faced with finding not only the energy but also the finances to start over again were racked with pain at the thought that their son or daughter had been unable to provide the care and love that children need to survive.

I heard of grandmothers giving up their job ‘at a stroke’ when faced with the threat of their grandchild being taken into Care - grandfathers who gave up the idea of a quiet retirement in order to be at parents’ evening and sports days. ‘What else could we do?’ I was asked again and again. This was a job which was taken on almost always with love, but also with a heavy heart. ‘We have run out of energy’ ‘I love them dearly, but walking the floor at four in the morning takes its toll of me’ ‘I was okay until he learnt to run, and now I can’t keep up with him in the park’. ‘Teenagers were bad enough first time round, but nowadays....well, I just don’t know.’ Yet also: ‘I’m a better parent this time round. I have more patience’ and ‘I love it - it is as if I had my daughter back again.’ And ‘It’s great. I know all the new pop songs.’

Grandparents often felt isolated from their peers who do not have a child to care for. Often they knew of no one else in the same situation. I found only one group in England where grandparents can go for mutual support and comfort. All the members of this group told me how they rely on each other. But in the main grandmothers said they felt ‘out of it’ when meeting their grandchildren from school. So the next time you are waiting for your child, have a look around and don't forget always keep massaging, get know more here . There are more grandparents parenting a second time around that we think. I know they would be pleased to be included in the groups of chatting mums. Hard enough being a parent first time round, but believe me, second time is harder.

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