Family units consisting of grandparents and grandchildren without any of the middle generation are sometimes referred to as skip-generation families. Sometimes this term appears as skipped generation families, which is more grammatically correct but appears to be less commonly used.
Other Relevant Terms
Skip-generation families are classified as kinship care units. Grandparents raising grandchildren (GRGs) is a commoner term, as is grandparents as parents (GAPs) or simply parenting grandparents.
The families created are sometimes referred to as grandfamilies or grand families. Skip generation is more specific than these terms in that it refers to grandparents raising grandchildren with no assistance from parents, the "skipped" or "skip" generation. A website which tracks new words traces the term to a 1991 issue of Newsweek.
The term may have its origin in law. Certain trusts that grandparents can set up for grandchildren are known as generation-skipping trusts.
Incidence of Skip-Generation Families
Skip-generation families are fairly rare, but appear to be increasing, according to the Census Bureau's study, Co-Resident Grandparents and Their Grandchildren: 2012. The number of children living in grandparent-maintained households increased from 3% in 1970 to 6% in 2012, with the greatest increase being in households with no parents present, this being the situation in about one in three grandparent-maintained households.
Although grandparents frequently serve as stop-gap caregivers, during times of family need, many grandparents raising grandchildren are in it for the long run. The Census Bureau report states that 39% of parenting grandparents have been raising their grandchildren for five or more years.
In addition, social service agencies are increasingly trying to place children removed from their families with other family members rather than relying on foster care. A federal law passed in 2008 makes it easier for grandparents to foster and adopt their grandchildren. Grandparents who have become official foster parents, however, are still far outnumbered by those who have informal arrangements.
Like children in foster care, children in skip-generation families suffer disproportionately from various physical, emotional and behavioral problems. Causative factors include substance abuse by parents, as well as parental neglect and abuse. Asthma and ADHD are frequent issues, as well as the more-to-be-expected depression and anxiety.
Grandparents raising their grandchildren without the help of parents often report depression due to a number of high-stress situations. These include:
- Moderating contact between their grandchildren and their parents
- Dealing with their own health issues while caring for active children
- Making decisions about custody and navigating the legal system
- Getting help from social services
- Interacting with teachers and administrators in the school system.
In addition, grandparents often suffer from guilt and may blame themselves for their children's parenting failure and bad lifestyle choices. They may be socially isolated since most of their peers are free from child-rearing responsibilities. And they almost always worry about what will happen to their grandchildren in the future.
Many grandparents raising grandchildren also struggle financially, according to Census Bureau statistics. Children living in grandparent-maintained households are more likely to be poor than children living in parent-maintained families. Households where children lived with a grandmother with no parent present were possibly the most likely to have financial difficulty, with 76% percent receiving public assistance.
The Question of Choice
Grandparents in skip-generation families also frequently report feeling that they had no choice other than to take in their grandchildren.
For some, this lack of choice translates into a feeling of entrapment. Others, however, take on the task willingly and even joyfully, grateful for the chance to make a difference in the lives of their grandchildren.
Holly Baker Shakya, Paula M Usita, Christina Eisenberg, Joanna Weston & Sandy Liles (2012): Family Well-Being Concerns of Grandparents in Skipped Generation Families. Journal of Gerontological Social Work. 55:1, 39-54.
Ellis, Renee R. and Tavia Simmons, “Coresident Grandparents and Their Grandchildren: 2012,” Current Population Reports, P20-576, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC. 2014.