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Census: Seniors find themselves raising grandchildren

At 65 years old, Geraldine Farmer never dreamed she'd be doing more than enjoying the twilight years with her husband, Alvin. But she is raising her three grandchildren alone. She's among the more than 79,000 Oklahoma grandparents raising grandchildren.
BY SONYA COLBERG Staff Writer scolberg@opubco.com Published: July 17, 2011

Geraldine Farmer can't sleep.

She worries about her three grandchildren tucked in bed in her Oklahoma City home.

“Lord,” she cries at night, “I can't do this! Lord, I can't do this.”

She dreamed that she and her husband Alvin would be relaxing together in their twilight years after raising five children. She imagined hugging and patting the visiting grandkids goodbye before they headed home.

But the children's mother is a crack addict. So home is Granny's house.

The 65-year-old caretaker represents part of the upheaval in the “Father Knows Best” type of American family that featured a husband, a wife and two or three children. She's representative of the Oklahoma grandparents raising 79,580 grandchildren, a national household trend noted by the U.S. Census Bureau. That's 8.6 percent of Oklahoma's children, according to data from the 2010 Census. About 6.5 percent of children lived with a grandparent in 2000.

Though she battles high blood pressure and poor vision, Farmer has been raising 12-year-old Roger, 9-year-old Nevaeh and 3-year-old Leon alone since her husband died two-and-a-half years ago.

Nevaeh was just 4 when Farmer suspected the girl's mother was running with questionable people and using drugs. She told her daughter that she wanted to keep the child.

“OK, Mama. Take her,” she said.

The very factors that faced the Farmer family are all too common, experts say. The state's high rate of substance abuse, poverty, teen pregnancy and incarceration of women all likely contribute to Oklahoma grandparents raising grandchildren, said Jane Garner, aging services program field representative with the state Department of Human Services.

“So, often grandparents step in to remove a child from an unfriendly home situation,” Garner said.

But once out of the household, Nevaeh had trouble adjusting. She used scissors to shred the new clothes Farmer bought her. She slept in the closet. She hid food under her mattress, though she got all she could eat. She viciously tackled her brother whenever she saw him. And she couldn't seem to stop talking.

One sleepless night, Farmer got up to see Nevaeh's bedroom light still on at 1 a.m. The child was combing her doll's hair.

“I can't sleep. I miss Mama,” she said.

Counselors said Nevaeh felt abandoned; and Farmer told her daughter that she had to talk to the little girl.

By then, the family had to go to Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud to visit the children's mother, where she's scheduled to stay until 2014 after pleading guilty to possessing, distributing and trying to profit from illegal drugs. The mother cried out her regrets, but assured her daughter that she loved her and told her to mind her grandmother.

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