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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 Published: July 17, 2011

It helped some, but Nevaeh got kicked out of first grade the first week of class. She got kicked out of second grade the second week of class at a different school. Her grandmother wrote an essay to get the children into “Preach Unto Them Jesus” school, where Neveah excelled and completed third grade. Nevaeh is better behaved, now, hugs everyone and hopes to become a recognized singer.

“I love my Granny. It's just that sometimes she goes old school. She'll use a switch on me. But if I could pick any granny, I'd pick her. I love her a lot,” said Nevaeh, who sported six braids carefully crafted by her grandmother.

“The Bible says, spare the rod and spoil the child,” Farmer said.

Ray Bitsche, executive director of Sunbeam Family Services in Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma has some of the highest numbers in the country of grandchildren raised by grandparents.

“If you stop and think about it, though, being 60 or 70 years old and then having to maintain an edge, stay on your toes and be attentive for your grandchildren day in and day out, that is a monumental task. And obviously it's done with love and compassion,” Bitsche said. “When I think of the prospect of me taking on that role, it overwhelms me. Grandparents who do that are very special people. I call it God's work.”

Roger and Leon later joined Nevaeh to live with their grandparents. Farmer said Roger also acted out until a few months after Alvin Farmer died in 2008, when the 8-year-old boy pulled on a black hoodie, sneaked out to a video store at 9 one night and got hit by a car. Now the 12-year-old is a calm, smiley boy who takes pride in helping with Leon.

Leon, who loves to be hugged and held when he's not hanging upside down from the drapery rods, said he helps, too.

His cousin, Kameron Turner, explained what Leon does: “He helps her by sleeping late in the morning.”

Leon's lived with his grandparents since he was three days old. His mother confessed that she smoked some crack the day before the baby was born. She lost custody when the drug was found in the newborn's blood stream. Geraldine and Alvin Farmer took him rather than letting him go into foster care.

Farmer said it's been terribly difficult but on the flip side, she doesn't know how she could have made it without the children to tend to after her husband died.

“You just take it one day at a time,” she said.



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