Grandparents taking on the role of parents (Lost generation raising the left behind generation)

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You know when you get a new car, all of a sudden you start to see the same make and model everywhere? Well, that is happening to me with all things grandparent as I look forward to becoming a granddad this summer.

A segment from the NBC news special, “One Nation Overdosed” caught my attention as it focused on grandparents faced with the reality of raising their grandchildren.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012, there were 2.7 million grandparents who had the primary responsibility to care for their grandchildren who lived with them.1
The number of grandparent-headed households has doubled since 1970, when the percentage was 3% of all households. In 2012, the percentage was 6%.2

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, substance abuse is a factor in as many as two-thirds of all cases of child abuse and neglect.3

Grandparents raising their grandchildren isn’t a new phenomenon globally. In fact, the U.S. is starting to resemble Swaziland after the AIDS crisis and China where both parents must work and children are raised by extended family.

As I prepare to become a grandpa for the first time, I’ve been chewing on what is my role and responsibility and what are the spiritual implications of grandparents–which are now being termed the forgotten generation–helping or raising their grandchildren–which are being called the left behind generation?

I firmly believe that with the increasing fragmentation of family, God has called us to be physical and spiritual parents and grandparents to the children and youth in our spheres of influence. It is a personal calling to each of us individually as well as corporately as the Church.

One of the best examples of the profound spiritual influence on the life and faith of a child is found in 2 Timothy. Here Paul notes that Timothy’s extraordinary maturation in his faith was a direct result of the spiritual guidance of both his mother and grandmother.

“I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you.” (2 Tim. 1:5 NLT)

While most situations of children being raised by grandparents are the result of less than optimal circumstances, we know that in all situations, God is able to take broken things and make them useful and beautiful.

This generation of left-behinds is struggling with technological connectedness, yet their reality is incredible loneliness, heartbreaking headlines, and the highest levels of unhappiness ever recorded on the planet.

God the Father beautifully demonstrates three crucial things that need to happen in the life of our young to combat the lies of the enemy. After Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan river and the Spirit of God descends on Him, “a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy’” (Matthew 3:17, NLT). In this one event Jesus is given:

  1. Strong sense of  identityThis is my dearly loved Son”
  2. Compelling voice of affirmation “dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy”
  3. Clear purpose immediately after this, Jesus is tested in the desert then begins his great work

When we step into the role of spiritually parenting and grandparenting, we are equipping children and young people to step into a different destiny than the one the Father of Lies would have them live out. I love hearing stories from the field, like Proseth, a 13 year old being raised by his grandmother. After learning he has a heavenly Father, Proseth began to feel less lonely and desolate and had more joy knowing that he’s never alone. His life’s mission is now to share God’s Good News with others who don’t yet know Christ, like his Buddhist grandmother.


[1] Renee R. Ellis and Tavia Simmons, Coresident Grandparents and Their Grandchildren: 2012. United States Census Bureau: October 2014. Accessed from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201612/grandparents-raising-grandchildren

[2] Ibid.

[3] Child Welfare Information Gateway, Parental Substance Use and the Child Welfare System, October 2014, https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/parentalsubabuse.pdf Accessed from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/when-your-adult-child-breaks-your-heart/201612/grandparents-raising-grandchildren