Custodial Grandparents, Parenting Stress, and the Loss of Self

Dr. Jeongeun (Jel) Lee

This week and next, we welcome Dr. Jeongeun (Jel) Lee, a Human Sciences Extension and Outreach State Specialist who studies gerontology. She will share her research on custodial grandfamilies and the stress, loss, and gains of this responsibility. Below is an excerpted interview.

Dr. Lee, please share with us some general information about grandparents raising their grandchildren.

“Interest in custodial grandfamilies, defined as those where grandparents provide full time care without significant involvement by grandchildren’s biological parents, has soared over the past quarter century. Currently, there are more than 2.7 million custodial grand family households in the United States serving as primary caregivers for their grandchildren without the presence of the grandchild’s parents (US census, 2012); 63% are grandmothers and 35% are grandparents of color (Whitely, 2017). Parental substance abuse, mental illness, incarceration, and child abuse/neglect are the predominant reasons grandparents are raising custodial grandchildren.”

Why is grandparents raising grandchildren something that we should give special attention to?

“Managing the care of custodial grandchildren (CGC) often requires constant attention and extensive resources. Scholars who observed grandfamilies argue that raising grandchildren can provide both emotional, physical, and financial challenges, but also provides many rewards.”

What are some challenges grandparents face?

“Part of the challenges come from the perspective of retirement. Most grandparents are at the stage where they could enjoy retirement or have other life plans but must forgo these plans and readjust their roles as parents. Given that grandparents may have different parenting strategies from current parents, this lack of knowledge or skills may also create some conflicts between generations.”

Reaching out to grandparents that are parenting their grandchildren is an important topic for communities to consider. Their challenges are unique and need focused attention.

Next week, Dr. Lee will discuss what is gained from custodial grandfamilies as well as the practical implications.

Kreider, R. M., & Ellis, R. (2011). Living arrangements of children: 2009 (Current Population Reports, P70-126). Washington, DC: U. S. Census Bureau. Retrieved from

Whitley, D. M., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2017). African–American solo grandparents raising grandchildren: A representative profile of their health status. Journal of community health42(2), 312-323.

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