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Refilling the nest: Limited help is available for empty nesters who agree to raise grandchildren in Oklahoma

Skip-generation families in Oklahoma provided unique problems for grandparents and grandchildren. Help is available, but more is needed.
By Jessica Allison, Staff Writer Published: July 21, 2014

When their second and youngest child left for college, Steve and Cathy Mathes looked forward to a retirement full of golf trips and the option — but not the need — to start a new job.

They never expected their home to be filled once again with the sounds of an infant crying and siblings fighting. Yet their 3,000-square-foot home — the one they downsized to after their two children left — is now home to five children of the Matheses’ daughter, who lost custody of them.

On a warm Friday afternoon, Blake, 10, plays with his sister Kyleigh, 17 months, and relays messages to Cathy Mathes from Bryce, 6, who is grumpy from the afternoon nap he took at the kitchen table. Nathan, 4, goes back and forth from watching TV with Bryce to hanging out with Brent, 8, who is outside with a friend weaving rubber band bracelets they plan to give to cancer patients at the children’s hospital.

The Matheses have taken care of their grandchildren off and on since Blake was born.

“Basically I would spend the whole week with my Mamie (Cathy) and spend two days with my mom,” says Blake, eager to be a part of the conversation.

“So, most of your life,” Steve Mathes says.

“We were able to get an agreement with our daughter that allowed us to do that on our own,” Cathy says. “Blake knows his mom has ... we call it an illness.”

“Do you hate to talk about it?,” she asks him.

“Yep,” Blake says without looking up from his rubber band bracelet loom.

The illness Cathy Mathes refers to is her daughter’s drug addiction. They spare the details. Instead, they say they’re thankful for the circumstances that allowed them to adopt the children. The boys’ adoption was finalized in September, and Kyleigh was officially adopted this month.

One of the biggest obstacles now is fitting in as both grandparents and parents in society. Paralleling young parents and their duties — such as going to PTA meetings and supporting the kids at sporting events — can sometimes be awkward, Cathy Mathes said.

“You don’t necessarily fit in,” she said.

Grand solutions

The family recently reached out to Peaceful Family Solutions, a faith-based nonprofit that provides counseling and networking for grandparents raising grandchildren, also known as grandfamilies or skip-generation families.

Brent Katigan, co-founder of Peaceful Family Solutions, said the idea for the service came about in January. The Matheses are one of six families he sees. He wants his nonprofit to become a one-stop shop for grandfamilies.

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