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Retirement and what grandparents do sometimeswisdom & advice from United Methodist Church by Peter Menkin

by Peter Menkin  
4/08/2010 / Family

by Peter Menkin

"Retirement is highly overrated as a major life problem. There is no evidence that retirement today is bad for your health (Vaillant, 2002)." This quotation is mindful, and that's an operative word here, "mindful," of how retirement needs to be approached in our current world. The advice is part of a United Methodist Church website article by David J. Powell, PhD, subtitled, "Retirement as Refirement." That's how this Methodist Church website article identifies it, and with the title, "The Spiritual Journey of Refirement." The article is here.

Sometimes Retirement with a capital "R" doesn't happen as is wanted, and in this report, this writer will address the sometimes necessary job Grandparents have of raising their children's kids. A phenomenon not so unknown these days, and a task of some difficulties for older people in their retirement years. We'll find an interview with Family Court Judge Sharon Chatman on her program for grandmother's raising their children's kids.

Let us look at retirement as presented by United Methodist Church, let us look at a choice of retirement work, the grandparents raising their children's kids. In the three story examples reported on in this article, the element of success, the element of fulfillment, and the element of real life problems is presented. A more literary and sometimes amusing discussion of United Methodist Church wisdom & advice is presented by an authority on the subject whose original article in its fuller detail is found on the United Methodist Church website. He writes from study of the subject, and knowledge of psychology with faith.

What's going on with ones situation, ones freedom to do, this Christian advice from Doctor Powell is good. Doctor Powell advises:

As children, we learn how to distinguish between fears of real things (being hurt) and imagined fears (the bogeyman hiding under the bed). By the same token, you need to face your real and imagined fears about retirement. You may fear diminished energy and importance. How do you take advantage of the downshifting in your life and see life's changes differently? Huston Smith, a philosopher of religion, said after turning eighty and suffering from a painful case of facial shingles, "Apparently somebody up there has decided to offer me another teaching" (Smith, 2001). Instead of bemoaning the losses you may be experiencing, marvel at what you are becoming. What are your fears today about retirement?

No doubt people have fears that are genuine concerns, and the concept of addressing these concerns and fears in direct and attitudinal ways, ways that offer hope and encourage self-knowing, what can be called "mindfulness," is spelled out in the United Methodist Church article found on the pages of their General Board of Discipleship in their website section: "Here are some practical suggestions of how to prepare yourself for refirement," as cited as written by Doctor Powell.

Try something new every day. Wendell Berry writes, "Every day do something that won't compute. Do it for no reason. Love someone who does not deserve it. Ask questions that have no answers. Invest in the next millennium by planting sequoias. Expect the end of the world, then laugh when it does not happen. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts" (Berry, 1985).
Part of who you are is what you will be. What are you becoming? What do you want to be now?

Revel in non-work activity. Be carefree. See work beyond productivity. Find the peculiar balance between doing and being that suits your soul and your season.
Taste things anew. What do you want to taste again, or for the first time? What do you want to savor? In refirement, you have the time, and hopefully the resources, to taste many new things, or old things again for the first time.

Envision your refirement. Draw a picture of what retirement will look like when you get there. If it is a negative picture, rethink more positively about how you would like the picture to look. Put words to the picture, writing alongside it the positive emotions you want to have in the future.

Grandparents in larger numbers than one would imagine are raising their grandchildren for their own children. Note this video from United Methodist Church.

Raising Grandkids in Retirement (UMTV)

The video script itself reads:

In the U.S., more than two million grandparents are raising grandchildren because their parents are battling disease, poverty or addiction. That reality led one church to create programs specifically for seniors parenting the second time around. Kim Riemland has more.

( Chicago, Ill.)

After raising four children, 66-year-old Ray Rice thought he'd have time to bowl.

His wife, 69-year-old Christine Rice, looked forward to quilting.

But rest and relaxation have given way to a new responsibility.

By necessity, they're raising their grandchildren.

Christine Rice, Retired: "I retired a few years before I planned to, in order to stay home with them."

The Rices stepped in to raise 12-year-old Christina and 17-year-old Casina after their mother had a nervous breakdown and lost her home.

Ray Rice, Retired Truck Driver: "They don't ever want to experience living in a shelter again."

The new arrangement took some getting used to.

Ray Rice: "It's a whole new thingthe way that they act, the way that they talk."

Casina Rice, Age 17: "Sometimes they don't understand because of the generation gap."

Christina Rice, Age 12: "It's nothing bad, it's just different."

The girls do chores around the house.

And the Rices' church helps too.

Dorothy Jenkins, Fernwood United Methodist Church: "We don't have a large congregation, but we do have at least five families in our church of grandparents raising grandchildren."

Fernwood United Methodist in Chicago recognizes the unique needs of these retirees who have seen their own children in crisis.

Dorothy Jenkins: "Some of the causes: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sometimes parents pass away, and HIV/AIDS."

Support comes in the form of computer training, help with home repairs, and much more.

The Rev. Al Sampson, Fernwood United Methodist Church: "I'm trying now to put together some psychiatrists, some psychologists, some school counselors, some guidance counselors."

There are fun outings too, like a movie and pizza night.

Dorothy Jenkins, Fernwood United Methodist Church: "When the grandparent is happy, it makes a happier child."

Fernwood wants to set an example for other faith groups.

The Rev. Al Sampson: "When a church says 'We're opening up the doors,' it ought to be all the doors."

The Reverend Doctor Al Sampson of Fernwood United Methodist Church in Chicago, who in an email to this writer notes he was ordained by The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was not available for interview at the time of the writing of this article. The United Methodist Church Television video offers a compelling picture of an important ministry in an individual church of the denomination. So explains UMC. Here is a comment by UMC Director, Center on Aging & Older Adult Ministries regarding a comment on The Reverend Doctor Al Sampson's program.

"Since I do not know the Reverend Al Sampson personally nor the ministry of his church, I can only respond from viewing the video you sent. Certainly, the ministry as it is detailed in the video is one that I would support." So says, Reverend. Doctor Richard H. Gentzler, Jr., Director, Center on Aging & Older Adult Ministries, GBOD, United Methodist Church (UMC). Dr. Gentzler's latest book is Aging and Ministry in the 21st Century (Discipleship Resources, UMC).

Reverend Doctor Gentzler goes on to say in his email to this writer, in interview fashion:

Hello Peter[:] Thank you for your email message. Let me first direct you to our website: Many of your questions can be answered by reading the various materials on this site.

The role of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries is to provide resources, training, and networking support to equip church leaders (clergy and laity) in their ministry of faith development with midlife and older adults.

We publish a newsletter, Center Sage and a few years ago we devoted an issue to grandparents raising grandchildren. This issue, which is quite complex and crosses race, economic, and class lines, is of particular concern with some of our congregations. Sometimes grandparents find themselves in this situation because their adult children cannot financially afford to care for their children, or as a result of incarceration, drug addiction, divorce, loss of job and home, etc. etc. Our role is not necessarily to resource grandparents, but to help church leaders become more aware of the problem and the role they can play in supporting both grandparents and grandchildren.

There is no doubt that the ministry of individual churches within the United Methodist Church USA are supported by the denomination.

Reverend MaryJane Pierce Norton, Associate General Secretary, Leadership Ministries
GBOD, The United Methodist Church goes on to add in a different email and Church policy:

Let me say a bit more about grandparents raising grandchildren. In both the areas of family ministries and older adult ministries Dr. Gentzler and I have talked about this as part of U.S. culture. The statistics regarding children in grandparent-headed families are available from the U.S. Census Bureau. As Dr. Gentzler stated, grandparents raising grandchildren crosses class, economic and racial lines. There is a website that can provide statistical information state-by-state As a "for instance", 61,262 grandparents in Tennessee report they are responsible for their grandchildren living with them. 66% of these grandparents are white; 31% are African American; and 1% are Hispanic/Latino.

The United Methodist Church has a new emphasis of policy on what they call the Four Focus ministry approach. I asked Reverend MaryJane Norton how this ministry approach applies to elder ministries, and in particular the ministry of grandparents raising kids. She wrote via email a lengthy reply in an interview-answering fashion:

Your question is in regard to how issues with aging and older adults in particular the issue of grandparents raising grandchildren relates to the four areas of focus of The United Methodist Church. The four areas of focus are: developing principled Christian leaders, creating new places for new people/revitalizing existing congregations; engaging in ministry with the poor; combating diseases of poverty by improving health globally.

As we at GBOD consider support for congregations in ministries with older adults, the area that relates most closely to our resourcing of leaders in older adult ministries is "creating new places for new people/revitalizing existing congregations."

The area you have cited grandparents raising grandchildren is one of many issues facing older adults in our congregations and in our communities. Through our web site, with printed materials, and in training, we help congregational leaders identify the concerns of older adults, look at solutions and support needed within the congregation and also identify support found in the community where they are located.

As we address the needs of leaders in older adult ministries, we are also able to address the focus area of "developing principled Christian leaders." The information provided by GBOD equips congregational leaders so that they can adequately plan for ministries in the congregation for, with, and by older adults.

Certainly, in equipping leaders in older adult ministries, we are also raising the concerns around both poverty and illness and disease as it relates to older adults. This is often done by providing demographic information that helps leaders see what issues have the most impact on older adults and what congregations can do to address those concerns.

This writer turns again to the opening words of this article with its related subjects on retirement of grandparents raising their children's children. The Reverend MaryJane Norton leads us into a statement that reflects adult ministries as highly overrated as a major life problem. We also find that a way to happiness is defined in the Christian way, with a poetic touch.

Dr. Powell, in his article on retirement offers more advice, advice that says be flexible and consider matters. The article ties in well with the view towards being an older adult as portrayed by UMC:

"Retirement is highly overrated as a major life problem. There is no evidence that retirement today is bad for your health" (Vaillant, 2002). The following [step] can reduce the problems commonly associated with retirement.
1. Find a new sense of happiness. You may still love your job, but you also need to find what else you love. Rumi said, "Let yourself be silently drawn by the pull of what you truly love." When you find what brings you passion, happiness, and love, you will be refired. To paraphrase Jesus who asked, what does it profit a man if he gain the world and lose his own soul.

Many, many grandparents have found a new sense of happiness raising their children's children. Many times it is a burden. In Northern California there is an organization founded by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Sharon Chatman, of the Family Court. Building Peaceful Families is a Silicon Valley 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health, safety, and well being of children by educating, honoring, and encouraging involved, responsible, and committed parenting. Since 2005, we have offered inspirational programs and events, with a special outreach to children, senior citizens, and victims of domestic violence.

The organization holds an annual awards ceremony for grandmothers raising their grandchildren. As the organization has announced in a press statement: "A Golden Grandmother is a woman who has selflessly and lovingly stepped into the role of full-time parent to raise her grandchildren. These women set aside their own plans to provide a familial alternative to foster care, helping keep brothers and sisters together and families intact. According to the latest U.S. census data, nearly 300,000 grandparents in California are responsible for meeting the basic needs of their grandchildren nearly 10,000 of them reside in Santa Clara County. These Golden Grandmothers play an important role, not only in the lives of their grandchildren but also in the community.

"In the past five years, we have honored more than 500 amazing women at our Golden Grandmothers Award luncheon," said Sharon Chatman, founder and chairman of Building Peaceful Families. "These community heroes are truly inspirational, and it is our privilege to publicly recognize and celebrate them for the vitally important role they fulfill every day."

In an interview with Family Court Judge Sharon Chatman, the following transpired by email with this writer:

Please tell readers how you came to this work of rewarding Grandmothers for raising their grandchild, and if your work as a Family Law Judge contributes to your foundation work? In my 20 years working in the justice systems, 10 as a prosecutor and 10 as judge, I became aware of the growing number of parents struggling with substance abuse, domestic abuse, mental illness, incarceration, and other challenges. Many of these parents were no longer able to care for their children. Their children landed in the foster care system and in a few cases their parental right were terminate. However the vast majority of these children were caught in the wonderful safety net called grandparents. These older Americas who were looking forward to retirement and long vacations have stepped forward to become fulltime parents again. These heroic figures are playing a vital role in lives of children and our community. The Golden Grandmothers Luncheon is Building Peaceful Families-- small way to both thanks and honors these amazing women.

Is there a special way that Building Peaceful Families also contributes in a direct helpful way to the needs of Grandmothers? By the way, Judge Sharon, in a phone conversation you said that your organization has a sister group and also works with Catholic Charities. Please explain. Building Peaceful Families work in collaboration with a number of community partners including church groups and upon request by a grandparent make referrals to those resources. One of our key partners is the Catholic Charities Kinship Center. They provide case management, support groups, educational seminars, recreation, respite, health management, and short-term counseling for grandmothers and other caregivers.

Assuming you are familiar with the very specifics of the Grandmothers you help and also reward each year at your benefit banquet in Santa Clara County, California, will you tell us something about one or two of them that is memorable to you? Anecdotal evidence is okay here. There a number of wonderful grandmothers, they include some of the following.

The 77 year old grandmother who is raising 10 grandkids all below the age of 10. She had to get a tutor in order to learn how to help her grandkids with their home work. She also had to get a part-time job to help supplement her social security.
She says that everyday is a challenging but new and wonderful day with love of her grandkids.

In the work of Building Peaceful Families, do you find Church groups and the Churches themselves more active in this area of Grandmothers (or grandparents, even), raising their grandchildren? Will you name a few Churches with whom Building Peaceful Families does or has worked? As a second part of this question, tell us what you think of the video posted by the United Methodist Church on their press website, and also what the United Methodist Church has said of their Raising Grandkids in Retirement, both found here.

I believe that churches are the foundation of the extended family and play a critical role in assisting grandmothers in their heroic efforts. The churches not only provide resources but more importantly the emotional support that is vital in a grandparent lead family's survival.

I think the work of the United Methodist Church is wonderful and a great example for not only other churches but the community as a whole on how we should treat these grandparents who are playing such a vital role.

In the U.S., more than two million grandparents are raising grandchildren because their parents are battling disease, poverty or addiction. That reality led one church to create programs specifically for seniors parenting the second time around. So says United Methodist Church. What was created from the need is the grandparents' program at Chicago's Fernwood United Methodist Church, where the Reverend Doctor Al Sampson is Pastor. Tell us about California, what are the numbers in this State and area? Is the "urban legend" that most of these children and Grandmothers come from poor, African American families true? It has not been my personal experience nor do the statistics support the belief that most of the children being raise my grandparents are from poor urban African American families. Data taken from the 2000 US Census Bureau:
Nationally: Grandparents responsible for raising their grandkids:
White 47%
African American 29%
Hispanic 17%
Asian 3%
California has 294,969 grandparents responsible for meeting the basic needs of grandkids
San Francisco Bay Area: 75,204
Santa Clara County 21,989

Who votes for the participants in your competition for Building Peaceful Families' Golden Grandmothers Award Luncheon? What is the deadline for voting, and can someone email their nomination? We accept referrals for the Golden Grandmothers luncheon from individuals, public agencies, courts, community organizations and church groups. A referral form can be found on our website ( .) The deadline for submission of a referral is April 2, 2010.

That wonderful article on the UMC website about retirement by Dr. Powell continues in an encouraging tone. It fits so well with the work of Judge Sharon Chatman, and her Building Peaceful Families' Golden Grandmothers award Luncheon to be held May 7, 2010. The Retirement as Refirement article says:

Appreciate your wisdom. In life's first half, you acquired knowledge, organized it, and disseminated it. In the second half, you gain wisdom and share it with others. Winston Churchill said, "When we are young we sow wild oats. When we get older we grow sage." The key is to appreciate and value the wisdom you have gained over the years. Allow time for your wisdom to settle within you, to see your natural wisdom. Make friends with your emotions. An open, empty mend allows you to discover a freer awareness of what you are feeling. In refirement, you will spend more time with yourself and be subject to fewer distractions. Understanding your emotions will be critical to how you spend your alone time. Don't expect today's youth to beat down your door and beg for your wisdom. Instead, you may initiate the exchange and remember what you bring to the table. Maybe it's okay to be a bit obsolete. In life's first half, it was important to be recognized by others. In the second half, appreciating your own wisdom without needing approval is sufficient.

Come to terms with the "if onlys" that plague you. "If only I did this in my career, then I would be happier." Refirement means letting go. Spirituality is always about letting go of false senses of independence and control, and seeing life as interdependent. Wendell Berry said, "Seed of song, work or sleep, no matter the need, what you let fall, we keep" (Berry, 1985). Learn to rest in the present moment and remember what is, is. By slowing down and drawing in, you open yourself up to fruitful experiences and the richest gifts life has to offer.

No doubt Dr. Powell is wise himself when it comes to retirement issues. At the end of his article he cites his sources, and they are listed here for additional reading:

Berry, Wendell. 1985. Collected Poems: 1957-1982. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Dychtwald, Ken. 1999. Age Power: How the 21st Century will be Ruled by the New Old. New York: Plenum Putnam.
Smith, Huston. Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Vaillant, George E. 2002. Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.


David J. Powell, Ph.D., is President of the International Center for Health Concerns, Inc., in which he is assisting in the development of behavioral health treatment in Asia. He resides half of the year in Beijing and Singapore. Dr. Powell is the author of Playing Life's Second Half: A Man's Guide for Turning Success into Significance, as well as six other books in the mental health field. He has been a clinician and marriage and family therapist for forty years. Dr. Powell can be reached at

Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.

Copyright Peter Menkin

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