Grandparents Raising Grandchildren – Part 1 

Catherine Pegram

Grandparents have always played a special part in childrens’ lives.

But for some, that relationship is shifting.

Catherine Pegram joins us with her special report on grandparents raising grandchildren.

Grandparents taking on the role of parents is definitely on the rise.

CAT GRAPHICIn Maine, a five-year span shows a 24% increase in children being raised solely by a grandparent.

But that doesn’t include the cases that are not reported.

Local child care experts say the rise in opiate abuse factors into those numbers.

A grandmother in Hermon is just one example of this life-altering trend.

Even freezing temperatures can’t slow down 7-year-old Zachory and 6-year-old Liam. It seems the brothers are in constant motion.

The same could be said for their grandmother – and primary caregiver – Deb Whitman.

“I don’t know how I juggle it – I just do. Between work – sometimes it’s pretty stressful.”

Better known as Grammy Debbie, Whitman has permanent guardianship of the brothers – children of one of her sons.

Her other son’s boy, 13-year-old T.J., spends most of his time at her home in Hermon, too.

Whitman is part of a growing trend in Maine – grandparents raising grandchildren.

She sees evidence of it everywhere – with friends, co-workers, even a close neighbor.

“It’s really kind of comical because we see each other at like rec Halloween parties and she said I remember when we used to see each other with our children because our children played together. And now our grandchildren play together.”

The return into parenting came with a phone call while Whitman was volunteering at a Waterfront Concert in Bangor.

The state had taken custody of Zachory and Liam. They were headed to foster care without Whitman’s help.

Her independent lifestyle took a step back.

“And then you have your grandkids and your back to, oh my gosh, I have to hurry up and get to daycare. If I’m late they’re going to charge me extra money. I got to think about getting a babysitter and then you’re like, wait a minute, I haven’t had a babysitter in forever. Who even babysits anymore?”

Whitman relied on the services of Adoptive and Foster Families of Maine to help her navigate some of those first logistical and legal steps of taking in her grandsons.

“All of a sudden, I got a case of diapers because Liam was in diapers at the time. And they said, I hope this helps.”

Through it all, she’s been very open about the experience with her blog –

She says it’s proof she doesn’t always have it together. Like the time she sent T.J. to catch the bus for the first day of school – four days early.

“And I was even out there clicking first day pictures of him! So I look out and I said T.J., you might as well come in. The bus isn’t coming today!”

Whitman admits this wasn’t the life she envisioned when her own children left the house. But, in some ways, it’s better.

“When your grandchild looks at you and says I love you more than 500 peanut butter sandwiches, then you’re like, awww. In the end, it’s worth it to know that they’re happy and safe. You know, just normal little boys. Maybe a little over active!”

In some cases the best scenario is for a grandparent to adopt the child.

Coming up in Part 2 of Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, we’ll meet a couple in Belfast who did that.

And we’ll find about the resources for grandparents and the need to help more of them find that help.


If you or someone you know is taking care of a young relative, Adoptive and Foster Families wants to help.

Services are available statewide, including support groups.

Just to go or call 1-800-833-9786.