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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/ Lynn Atkins Caitlyn (center) has been raised by her grandparents, Jim and Jamey Rowland, since she was 13 months old. While there are rewards to raising grandchildren, there are also challenges, Jim Rowland says. He and his wife are facilitators for a grandparents raising grandchildren support group that meets at First United Methodist Church, 20 Boyce Drive in Bella Vista.

His own experience has equipped Jim Rowland for his volunteer job. A retired Methodist minister who raised three children, Rowland is also the son of an abusive alcoholic. He understands how addiction can run in some families and how important it is to break that cycle. He also understands the difficult choices some grandparents are forced to make. Rowland and wife Jamey are facilitators for a support group designed for grandparents raising grandchildren.

The Rowlands have been raising their biological granddaughter, 15-year-old Caitlyn, since she was 13 months old.

Grandparents Support Group

When: 6 p.m. second and fourth Wednesday of the month

Where: In the parlor at First United Methodist Church in Bella Vista, 20 Boyce Drive

Cost: Free

Information: 855-1158, lovelearnlead.com

"It's a tough decision," he says about grandparents stepping in. Not only are the grandparents giving up their own retirement, but they are also making a decision that may put them at odds with their own son or daughter. But in the end, it's the best interest of the grandchild that has to come first.

"I'm not a big believer in our foster care system," he says.

Rowland believes that more and more grandparents are finding themselves in the same situation as drugs become more and more prevalent in society. Today it's both methamphetamine and opioids that are to blame.

The support group, which meets at the First United Methodist Church on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, is open to all grandparents acting as parents. So far, Rowland says, the grandparents have had a lot of questions. No one has all the answers, but members of the group can talk about how they handled the same issues.

For example, grandparents ask a lot of questions about smartphones. When is a child old enough to have his or her own phone? What precautions need to be taken? One member of the group shared information about an app that helps her monitor her grandchild's location and texting. Most grandparents didn't have to worry about their own children having the ability to access the internet, but it's a different culture now, Rowland says.

If the parent is still in the grandchild's life, it's vital to set boundaries, Rowland goes on. He doesn't tell other grandparents what those boundaries should be, but he encourages them to think about what's best for the grandchild.

Stability for the child is important.

The Rowlands began by getting guardianship of their granddaughter. He told her about her mother and explained that even though her mother loved her, she couldn't care for her. It was necessary to add her to their health insurance policy, but they had to convince their daughter to sign off on the plan. Eventually, they realized that Caitlyn needed to know where she belonged and they adopted her.

"You need a good relationship with your own spouse," Rowland says. Both the grandmother and grandfather should be committed to the child. He knows a few families where one half of the senior couple is sick, leaving the other spouse to care for a spouse and a child at the same time. It's possible, he says, but it's not easy.

Often the grandparents have to struggle with the fear that they'll make a mistake with their grandchildren, like those they may have made with their own children.

"You can't undo what's done," Rowland advises them. Then he reminds them that ultimately God is in control. Sometimes you just have to trust.

When his own children were growing up, Rowland wasn't always there for them. As adults, they've told him they remember he was always at work. Now, he's retired, and he can be there for his granddaughter. He's teaching her how to drive, and they fish together. He even plays video games with her.

The most important thing he can offer to the other grandparents is support.

"Everyone needs to know that they aren't alone," he says.

NAN Religion on 05/25/2019

Print Headline: Another chance, another challenge

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