No empty nesting for us! After twenty-six years of diapers, kindergarten, homework, first loves, heartbreaks, loud cars that were continually breaking down, college tuition, and weddings for our four children, my husband and I were ready for some down time, some alone time, and just plain fun time. That was not to be.
Instead, we are raising our 11-year-old granddaughter.
How did this happen, you ask. Let me take you back to 1999. Our youngest child and only daughter, Rachel, stunned us when, at age fifteen, she announced she was pregnant. She never had even dated! One act of rebellion, one error in judgement at a party, and our baby was going to be a mother. The boy told her to get an abortion or get lost, and we realized that he was not going to step to the plate to take responsibility or be in a position to contribute emotionally or financially. We told Rachel we would support whatever decision, and luckily, she chose the option that we were secretly hoping for — keeping the baby. My husband and I were with her when she gave birth — how can you be so proud of your daughter for being so brave through a tough labor and delivery, and so scared for her future and that of her new baby girl, all at the same time?
We loved Madeline from the moment she was born. She was sweet, affectionate, and always made us laugh. Rachel finished high school and went on to college and a job. When Maddie was two, Rachel met and eventually married a responsible, loving young man, Steven, who lived out of state. My heart broke when they moved out to be a family of their own in faraway New York, where Steven had a good job. It seemed that I was not only losing a daughter but our grandchild too. Maddie’s father, who had never even met her or had any interest in her, gave up his parental rights and Steven adopted her.
Rachel and Steven eventually had other children. Maddie had always been loud, easily anxious, and did not tolerate change well. Life became progressively intolerable for them as a family as Madeline got older. She became disruptive both in school and at home, aggressive toward their other children, and very disrespectful toward her stepfather. She was diagnosed with ADHD and started medication and counseling, neither of which was very effective.
Fast forward to 2008. When Madeline was nine, her parents could no longer take her behavior and their marriage was fragile. They asked us to let her come live with us. We had helped raise her as a baby and toddler, so she felt very comfortable with us. We had to go to court to request legal custody of her, so that she could attend school in our state.
It is a strange situation in a way, as we keep very good communication with her parents and we visit back and forth quite often. Her younger sisters love her very much and are too young to question why Maddie lives in another state with their grandparents, and not with them.
When Madeline came to live with us, we immediately questioned her meds. She was put on a new medication which gave her a little more control over her actions. Counseling seemed to help and gave her an opportunity to discuss her anger with her parents and how their fighting upset her and made her feel guilty, which was news to us. Her school counselor evaluated her with a minute-by-minute study and found she was attentive and focused in the morning, but horribly off task and disruptive in the afternoon when it wore off.
To help stabilize her activity levels and ability to focus throughout the day, her doctor gave her an additional medication to take at lunchtime. She became very aggressive toward us, and we had to physically pull her upstairs to go to bed at night. She was very angry and combative and would seethe with clenched teeth “I’m going to kill you.” After a day or two, I began to suspect her new medicine and told the school nurse not to give it to her anymore and called her doctor. Within a day or two without it, Maddie was back to her sweet self and on a new afternoon medicine that worked very well. Her aggressiveness was back to her “normal” level.
Maddie has been with us for two years now. We have been working on limits and responsibility with her, and letting her know she can try to take control of her actions despite her ADHD. We are learning to anticipate her moods and impulsiveness. James Lehman’s DVD on setting rules and consequences helped us a great deal. Madeline is getting good grades and is doing well on her meds, although she still has anger issues and mood swings. However, we have hope!
But I smile whenever someone who does not know our situation laughs and says, “The best thing about grandchildren is that you can send them home”! If they only knew…