NEPA grandparents raising grandchildren find allies at forum in Wilkes-Barre
WILKES-BARRE —She spread her arms, opened her mouth, stuck out her tongue a bit and exhaled a mighty breath — “Haaa!” — that would have been a roar if she hadn’t deliberately made it more of a whisper.
“It’s a wonderful way to blow off steam, an avenue of expression that doesn’t hurt anyone,” Christine Keisinger said, encouraging a banquet room full of adults to imitate the way she had demonstrated “the Lion” yoga posture.
“Kids love `the Lion’,” she added, “and I do it sometimes when I’m alone in my car.”
Keisinger’s audience Friday afternoon was justifiably interested in ways to handle their own stress and that of the youngsters in their lives. Many of the more than 120 people who attended the ninth annual conference of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren at Genetti’s Best Western are taking care of their children’s children.
Reasons for that situation are often traumatic, Luzerne County Family Court Judge Jennifer Rogers told the group, citing untimely death, mental illness, incarceration or military service of a parent, as well as “the most prevalent monster, substance abuse.”
“On behalf of your grandchildren, thank you for the daily hugs, the baths, the driving lessons, the extra money for the prom dress,” Rogers said. “Thank you for providing a home without violence, a home without drug abuse.”
Look around the room, she said, and see you’re not alone.
Indeed the room was filled with people who wanted to help families, ranging from representatives of the Domestic Violence Service Center to the Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged students in Hershey to the Marshall, Parker & Weber law firm that specializes in elder law and estate planning.
“It’s often an issue that grandparents (in the event of their death) don’t want the grandchildren to go back to their children,” Kelsey Pazanski Wargo said as attendees milled about the law firm’s table. “It must be in writing who would take care of them.”
If a grandchild of any age has special needs, Wargo added, an estate planner can help a grandparent arrange to leave that grandchild an inheritance in a trust so the child wouldn’t lose government benefits.
Back at the podium, speaker Frank Mariano drew upon his years working in special education to offer advice.
“If you don’t want your child to hit, model that behavior. Don’t hit,” he said. If you want them to treat everyone in the family with respect, make sure you do the same. A child will surely notice if “you tell Nana she’s a pain in the rear end.”
“If one of my kids says to me ‘I hate you,’ my instinct is to tell them how much I love them,” Mariano added. “We need to love them when they’re the most unlovable.”
Later Keisinger, who works as a wellness educator at the Sapphire Salon and Destination Spa in Pittston, told the crowd that when she was 34, single and childless in 2002, a woman she didn’t know, also 34, succumbed to a rare medical condition during a marathon race and left two small children.
Keisinger adopted the little ones when they were 2 and 4 and knows, just as many grandparents do, it’s not easy to raise youngsters who have been traumatized by the loss of a parent.
You’ll never eliminate stress but you can learn to manage it, she said, offering quick lessons in deep breathing as well as in closing your right nostril with your finger so you’ll breathe only through your left. “It’s like a natural sedative,” she said.
The NEPA Intergenerational Coalition sponsored the seminar.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
• In Luzerne County, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 grandparents are raising grandchildren, seminar organizer Howard Grossman said.
• According to the United States Census, 4.9 million American children were being raised solely by their grandparents in 2010.