Our society has created this ideal family — a loving mom and a caring dad. Maybe because this family is everyone’s expectation of what a normal family is supposed to look like. The portrayal of this type of family has been spread all over television, magazines, and social media.
I hate to say it, but this is not the reality for millions of children in America (according to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 2.7 million grandparents in this country who serve as the primary caregivers for their grandchildren). I am one of those children.
I have been raised by my grandmother for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I recognized my family was different from other families, and I used to contemplate why my family wasn’t the same way. My family status consists of my sister, my aunt, and my grandmother. Understanding my situation has been quite a journey.
In elementary school, seeing my peers with the stereotypical “American Dream” family created tremendous anxiety for me, and I envied the idea of having both parents in my life. Living with this constant distress drew me to the conclusion that it was somehow my fault. This distress entailed self-consciousness and even difficulty sleeping.
As I got older, I realized this situation had nothing to do with me but my parents’ inability to take care of me. My parents were not in the right frame of mind, and that’s what truly hindered me. My dad was not mentally mature for children. My mom didn’t want the responsibilities that came along with having a child. I think I knew this already, but I tried to push this idea to the back of my mind because it was so agonizing.
It was time for me to truly evaluate my situation. I looked into every aspect of the predicament, and this is what I concluded.
The Old School Lifestyle
When you are raised by an older person, it’s like you’re living in a different era. The expectations and rules are not of this century. My curfew is 8:30 at night on school days and quality family time is a must in our household. I realize there is a major generational gap between me and my grandmother. In her day, times were different. She implements some of her old-school values and morals in the way she parents. This parenting style involves three points which are: education is the key to success, nothing is free in life, and actions speak louder than words.
My grandmother would have me read a book once a month, and we would do a mini overview. At first, I would get so annoyed by this daily routine. But over time, my vocabulary became strong and my literacy was above grade level. Although a lot of families have these same morals, I think being raised by my Nana made it imperative that I conform to these rules. The reason she set certain rules and values in place was for my benefit. When you see that your life is a struggle, cooperation in your relationships is important. If these are the rules I’m supposed to abide by, then let me abide by the rules.
Even if they’re outdated, my grandma doesn’t want me to become a statistic. She has my best interests at heart. Like a lot of parents, she does things that may seem annoying at first, but it all pays off in the long run. My grandma is very hard on me because she knows all the odds are against me based on our predicament. Instead of fighting against your parents or whoever is taking care of you, try to look at it from their end.
The Role Switch
My grandmother is now in the position of taking care of two children on her own. When she took on this role, she lost the opportunity to be a grandma. What I mean by this is a grandchild and grandmother relationship is totally different from a parent or caregiver’s bond. A grandparent does not have any responsibilities or obligations toward the child, simply just fun, fond memories. At this age, all your hard work and labor comes to an end and you’re supposed to be financially stable and ready for retirement. Unfortunately, my grandmother does not get the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of grandparenthood. She had to become a mother all over again at the age of 50. My grandmother has been raising me for 10 years of her life and still counting.
What breaks my heart the most is this is a precious time in her life, a time she will never get back. Time spent struggling just trying to pay the bills so when we flip the switch the lights will turn on, when we turn the knob, water will run. Waking up every morning at 5 a.m. just so we can have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs.
I knew that failure was not an option for me. I had to prove that my situation was not going to define who I was to become. If you are to take anything away from this, let your struggle become your fuel to keep on going every day. Don’t be discouraged by your shortcomings or downfalls. Let it motivate you to accomplish your goals.
Beauty in the struggle
Although our situation can be very stressful at times, I have learned to love it. Being raised by my Nana is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Despite all the drama, we have developed a bond like no other.
When I was younger, my heart would ache because my mother wasn’t around. My mind would constantly replay this one question: Why doesn’t she want me?
People have a tendency to focus on what they don’t have instead of the things they do have. I was so caught up in who I didn’t have that I was oblivious to the two people in my life who did care about me. My grandmother and aunt were always there for me and taught me everything I know. With my grandma, she will give me wise insight on the world. I know she always will be real with me on everything and anything. My aunt, on the other hand, is around the same age as my mother, so I talk to her about things I can’t necessarily talk about with my Nana.
The point is to start appreciating what is in front of you, or you will fall into a pit of despair. If we look at other people’s lives and try to compare and contrast between yours and theirs, you will never be happy.
My situation might not fit everyone’s concept of the American dream, but it’s the situation that’s taught me what it’s like to fight and persevere. Surprisingly, I’m happy it isn’t everyone else’s family unit — that’s what makes it special. Ultimately, we have to appreciate the lives we live despite the setbacks.
Our lives are what set us apart from others, and embracing our lives is the only thing that will keep us sane. Through all the ups and downs, there’s no other woman I’d rather have show me how to be one. My Nana has been a mother, a father and a role model to me. She’s someone who teaches me to value every moment of your life.
A grandmother raising her granddaughter is not ideal, but it’s real.
Above photo: The author, as a little girl with her Nana, Safiyyah Sharif. Photo courtesy of Isabella Cavienss.