Ohio Family Story: Grandfamilies…You Are Not Alone

“I got the phone call from the hospital that my baby was born,” said Pandora

Pandora, a 2-time cancer survivor is a 65-year old mother to many. Pandora raised her children, then in her mid-forties she slowly became the legal custodial parent of three of her grandchildren as they were born. As a previous music teacher, Pandora fondly recalls the song she sang 21-years ago when she first met her granddaughter, Victoria, right after she was born at the hospital. She has since added two more children into her home. Today, she celebrates the educational successes of her grandchildren who are 21, 19, and 18 years old. All three, college students. Like many grandmother-led grandfamilies, Pandora insists that she is mom, not a grandmother. She considers her grandchildren her children. Those are the titles she uses to describe her family.

“I have given my entire life for these kids and I would do it again if I had to,” said Pandora

Pandora has experienced many twists and turns in her life as she raised her children. Nevertheless, her commitment to her children kept her moving forward in the midst of adversities. In the last 21 years while raising her children, Pandora experienced a divorce, went through her second experience with chemotherapy and won her second bout with cancer. Seeing herself as a survivor, Pandora has never stopped working to provide a life for her children.

“They all know who I am,” said Pandora

As her children matriculated through different schools, Pandora learned to leverage relationships with educators to support her children’s learning. She notes that the personal connections she made with educators still pays off today. Her 18-year-old son is a dually enrolled student who earns college credit while simultaneously attending high school and Columbus State Community College. Pandora shared that this would not be possible if it had not been for one elementary school teacher who taught the children years ago, who now works with high school students. Pandora and the teacher have maintained a relationship over the years and were able to work together to navigate enrolling in the dual-credit program. Pandora recommends engaging in very direct contact with school officials and getting involved in school activities as much as you can, so that your face is known, and it is linked to your children.

Pandora has learned quite a bit over the years as she has raised her second set of children. She has seen the percentage of grandparents raising grandchildren increase over time. Pandora wants grandparents to know that they are not alone. She wants educators to know that language matters to grandfamilies and suggests that schools ask what title grandfamilies use to identify caregivers, which can increase their sense of connectedness to the school. Pandora urges educators to communicate with grandfamilies in direct, clear and easy-to-understand ways. She challenges grandfamilies and educators to “communicate,” in order to serve the academic needs of grandchildren raised by grandparents.