Last night, as Kaia and I ate dinner at her princess table, she asked me a loaded question: “Where’s Brandon’s mommy?” Brandon, my nephew, has been living with my parents for almost a year. They took him in after my father went to pick him up for a visit and learned that he was living in a house with no heat, no water (the pipes had burst since the heat was off) and no food. He came to live with my parents that day and has only been to visit his mom about three times since—not because my parents prevent his mom from seeing him, but because she hasn’t made the effort.
I told Kaia that Brandon’s mommy was at her own house. To which she replied “I want Brandon’s mommy to come see him.” Kaia didn’t ask about Brandon’s also-absentee father, my brother, because she doesn’t know her own dad, so I’m assuming her 2-year-old logic has deemed fathers optional. Kaia is, however, really concerned about Brandon’s lack of contact with his mom. I’m guessing that Brandon is too, but since he has autism and isn’t very verbal, he can’t tell us that he’s sad that he hasn’t seen his mom, sister or brother (who are also being raised by their paternal grandparents). While he doesn’t/can’t tell us that he misses his mom , Brandon has taken to calling both my mom and me “mommy.”
Brandon is hardly alone. Millions of kids are raised by their grandparents for an assortment of reasons—more than 4.5 million in the United States according the Census— but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when it happens. It’s a problem that disproportionately affects our community—while grandparent-headed families are diverse, they are more likely to be African-American and female-headed.
Even when grandparents are doing an exceptional job providing stable, loving homes for their grandchildren—like my parents—there are obstacles. For instance, my parents had to go to court for guardianship, and they are still having a hard time with Brandon’s medical and dental coverage. In addition to the day-to-day challenges of receiving approval to make decisions for the children, it’s a huge sacrifice to become a parent again in your 60s, especially to a child who may forever be dependent like my nephew.
I hope that Brandon’s mom gets herself together and realizes how important it is to be a part of her children’s lives—and I hope my brother has a similar epiphany. But I won’t hold my breath. I’ll instead focus on being thankful that Brandon has substitute “parents” and extended family who love him, and that he’s thriving under less than ideal conditions.
And I’ll start preparing myself for the other difficult questions that are sure to come my way from a child who is perceptive, concerned about the well-being of others and wise beyond her years.