When 6-year-old Amanda Randall of Brainerd goes to sleep each night, there to kiss her and give her a nightly "tickle tuck" are her grandparents, Norma and Jim Randall, and her dad, Steve.
Then her dad returns to his own home next door in their northeast Brainerd neighborhood.
While her living situation may seem unconventional, it's one that works well for the bright and good-natured first-grader, who lives with her grandparents.
Both of Amanda's parents are disabled and unable to care for her, so the Randalls stepped in soon after she was born to begin caring for her on a daily basis. When she was 3, Amanda moved in permanently with them. Since January they've retained both legal and physical custody of her.
Now retired, the Randalls aren't exactly spending their golden years the way they had planned. Norma, 62, and Jim, 64, had hoped to do a lot of traveling when they retired. Now they have Amanda's school schedule to work around.
The Randalls both volunteer at Lowell Elementary School, where Amanda is in first grade. They live a short distance from the school, but didn't realize the staff desperately needed volunteers until Amanda began attending classes there.
Jim volunteers twice a week at the school and helps Amanda and her classmates with their reading and math.
"I like it because he has to deal with us monsters all day," said Amanda as she smiled at her "papa."
While raising Amanda has been an adjustment for the Randalls -- it had been at least 30 years since they raised their two sons -- it also has made life sweeter.
"She's just absolutely precious," Norma said of her only grandchild. "We love having her. I can't imagine life without her."
"Know what I miss the most about being a grandparent?" asked Jim. "Spoiling them rotten and sending them home."
Grandparents raising grandchildren can be a complicated situation, especially if the grandparents don't have legal custody of the child, the Randalls learned.
Until they obtained legal custody of Amanda, they were unable to do basic things like get her birth certificate or make medical decisions for her. Fortunately, her parents' decision to give up their parental rights was consensual, which has made the situation an easier one. The Randalls and Amanda recently traveled to Texas to visit Amanda's other grandparents, with whom they have a good relationship.
The Randalls are not alone. In Minnesota, an estimated 71,000 children are now living under the primary care of a grandparent or some older relative, an increase of 100 percent since 1990, according to the Minnesota Board on Aging. In many cases it had been many years since these grandparents had raised their own children, and they didn't know where to go with questions on raising their grandchildren.
Norma Randall will tell her story of raising Amanda at five "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren" Information and Resource Conferences planned throughout central Minnesota in April and May, sponsored by the Minnesota Kinship Caregiver Association and Region 5 Area Agency on Aging.
The conferences will be April 29 at Union Congregational Church, Hackensack; May 1 at Country Inn and Suites, Baxter; May 6 at First Lutheran Church, Little Falls; May 8 at the Browerville Community Center; and May 20 at Northwest Technical College, Wadena.
Cost is $5. The events, which run from 8:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., will cover legal aspects of raising grandchildren and financial and social programs available. Grandparents also will be able to connect and talk with other grandparents in their own situation. Child-care stipends will be available at each event since organizers don't want the conferences to be a financial burden for participants.
Randall is a mentor for the Grand Kin Project and will become a resource in the Brainerd lakes area for other grandparents for support and information. Support groups also may be forming.
For more information and to register, call Sheila Hunter at (218) 547-4273 or e-mail Sharon Notch at email@example.com.
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