If a parent is unable or unwilling to care for their child, there is usually a caring grandparent to help alleviate the burden. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, grandparents are doing just that in record numbers. However, experts say grandparents may be ill-prepared to raise their grandchildren - and unenthusiastic about their new role as parent.

According to the report, which analyzed 2008 Census Bureau data, approximately 7 million children live with at least one grandparent, with 2.9 million of those being raised primarily by grandparents. This is a dramatic increase, up 6 percent from 2007 alone. That year also saw a demographical change: historically, more black and Hispanic grandparents have been primary caregivers, but in 2007 whites had the greatest increase, with a 9 percent jump.

According to Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a nonprofit advocacy group, moving from grandparent to parent can be a difficult adjustment. "You're talking about older adults who have agreed to make some sacrifice in their life, and they need to have some support and respect," she said. "There are a lot of emotions that the children and grandparents experience - and anger, a loss of their traditional role."

The strain of the new lifestyle and roles only adds to the stress that is already present in both lives, Butts says. Although there are countless reasons for a grandparent to assume parenting duties, there are similar themes. Financial problems, illness, alcohol or drug abuse, incarceration, deployment, death, or some combination are commonly behind a parent's decision or a court judgment. "It's almost inevitable that there is some stress around the reason these grandparents and grandchildren come together," Butts said.

Children may also enter the new situation with complications from abuse, neglect, and exposure to drugs and alcohol, and often have difficulty dealing with the loss of their parents, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Many grandparents in this caretaking role underestimate or are unaware of the added burdens their new role as parents will place upon them," the academy warns.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "New report: more grandparents raising grandkids", David Crary, 9 September 2010