Shufelt: grandparents remain family bedrock despite day-to-day struggles

I absolutely love being a grandfather.

Dan Shufelt (Arizona Helping Hands)

Dan Shufelt

Having my 6-year-old grandson run up to me with a huge smile yelling “grandpa” is a complete joy. I love watching my two grandchildren grow and develop into such amazing individuals without the responsibility and the worry of dealing with their day-to-day needs.

Discipline, homework, getting them out of bed and ready for school, or to doctor appointments and more falls to my daughters or son-in-law. All the tough pieces are done by others and I can bask in the glow of love from my grandson and granddaughter.

When — at my advanced age — I tire of the energy required to parent 24/7 I can send them home. It’s almost too good to be true — all of the fun with little of the responsibility. Who could ask for a better arrangement?

We have all read the stories in the news about the opiod crisis. Scott Simon of NPR published a story on last December titled, “The foster care system is flooded with children of the Opiod Epidemic.”

The article discusses how more and more children are affected by this nationwide problem. Their care falls to others, and very often to their relatives – aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Grandma “R” came to Arizona Helping Hands recently to receive a crib for her 18-day-old grandson. The baby was born addicted to methamphetamines. He is one of multiple siblings that R is now caring for all day long, seven days a week.

Between court dates, medical appointments, counseling sessions and more, added to constant duties of raising children, R has a full plate. She told me that “family is everything.” She quit her job to commit her life to these children. She says she will continue to love and care for the kids as long as possible.

It’s hard to comprehend how R’s daughter can continue down the path she’s chosen, deciding that satisfying her “needs” is more important than caring for her children. R has set a higher course. She told me that as a child she was surrounded in multigenerational love. The family came together to provide her love and security. She is now doing just that for her grandchildren.

Hearing the “poppa” greeting from my 3-year-old granddaughter is magical. Bundling her up in my arms is a pleasure beyond description. For me, grand-parenting is nothing but bliss, not so for many others.

Day after day families pass through our lobby, receiving beds, cribs, diapers, backpacks, birthday gifts and more for children in their care. A far too great number of these visitors are grandparents who have been forced into a different role.

Grandpa M tells us that his grandson is “poppa’s boy” — a huge change in that role from the one I have with my grandkids.

The thought of raising R’s infant who is withdrawing from substances or for M’s multiple children at this stage in life is scary as can be. Heading toward retirement, trying to plan a way to make your financial resources last through your remaining years, in many cases struggling to get by on a fixed income — when life changes in an instant.

When you get that call from the Arizona Department of Child Safety to tell you that your grandchild is in need of help, do you have a choice? What would you do?

Thankfully, because of R, M and untold numbers of grandparents who believe that family is everything, these kids are safe and loved. We at Arizona Helping Hands loaded R, M and dozens others up with supplies to make the journey a bit easier. We also sent them home with our wishes for health and happiness as they face this difficult journey.

Services like ours exist to help grandparents and others who are faced with this change of life.
To learn more about our work, visit

God Bless Grandpa, Grandma, Poppa, Nana and all grandparents.

Editor’s note: Mr. Shufelt is the executive director of Arizona Helping Hands

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