Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.


Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.



The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.



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there was a court hearing.

Custody has two components. Legal custody means being able to make decisions for the child. This includes issues such as where he goes to school and other educational decisions, as well medical decisions and living arrangements. Without legal custody, a grandparent might bring the child to the neighborhood public school only to find school officials will not admit him or her because they do not know whether the child is a legal resident of the geographic area that school serves. Also, without such legal authority, if the child gets sick, the grandparents may have no authority to take him or her to the doctor of their choice, much less agree to give the child a drug that may cure his or her illness. The same is true if a grandparent must grant permission for a child to play a sport that involves risk of physical injury.

Physical custody refers to where the child lives, eats and sleeps. It does not grant legal rights. Sole custody is sometimes known as full custody. If a court has given you sole custody of your relative child, you have both legal and physical custody. You can make all decisions concerning the child and have the final say on everything.

Usually getting legal custody of a child not your own involves going to court and proving to the judge it is in the child’s best interests for someone other than the birth parents to have custody. If you as a grandparent have legal custody, the birth parents will have to go to court to get the child or children back. They can’t just knock on the door and demand them. Grandparents in Kentucky who end up raising children without contacting the Cabinet for Health and Family Services can be declared de facto custodians if they meet the requirements of various state laws. Lexington lawyer Anna Dominick says this can get complicated. Grandparents who wish to go this route should see a lawyer for help.

Family court may also help you find whether you are eligible for public financial aid, such as Medicaid. Having legal custody also clears the way for the grandparent or other caregiver to name someone to take over formal, legal parenting in case the grandparent or other caregiver dies or becomes incapacitated.

Most important of all: It’s smartest to assume you’re in this for the long haul, maybe until the child becomes an adult.

For fuller treatment of these issues, see the author’s book, Raising Your Children’s Children: Help for Grandparents Raising Grandkids, available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Jimmy, 8, standing in his grandparents’ front yard, waves his arm toward the house. “This is my home now,” he says.

What Jimmy does not say is that he has trouble sleeping and sometimes has panic attacks. His grandmother, Sandy, thinks it is because of the child’s conflicted state of mind.

“He misses his parents, my daughter, Carolyn, and her boyfriend, Johnny, yet thinking of them makes him nervous,” his grandmother says. “He keeps asking me, ‘Granny, are they going to come and get me?’ and I say, ‘No, baby, nobody’s going to take you away from your Granny.’”

Sandy worries even as she tries to reassure Jimmy. “Am I telling him the truth? What if Carolyn and Johnny show up someday? They’re Jimmy’s natural parents. Can I stop them from taking their own child? Carolyn is my daughter and I still love her. But let her try to raise this child? No way.”

Jimmy has lived with his grandparents for as long as he can remember. Carolyn and Johnny were both 16 years old when he was born. Both are heroin addicts. Jimmy was about 2 years old when his parents’ lifestyle and their abuse and neglect came to the attention of the local social services agency. Someone in that office called Sandy and said the government was removing the toddler from his parents’ care that day.


Would she take the child or should they just send him to foster care with strangers? That was all the notice Sandy and her husband, Wallace, got that they had another child to raise. What else could they do?

This true story is not unusual. In Kentucky, about 59,000 children are being raised by grandparents and other relatives. Almost all of these cases, perhaps as many as 90 percent, involve drug and/or alcohol abuse.

What rights do grandparents have? What can they do to help both themselves and the child (or children) avoid being blind-sided by the kind of pitfall Jimmy fears? His fear is well founded. If his grandparents do not take action, Jimmy’s biological parents may indeed be able to take him away from the only home he has ever known and his only shred of stability. Each move is traumatic to the child.

What should Jimmy’s grandparents have done immediately when social services first brought him to their home? They should have gone to family court to get some kind of formal custody. Then, if the biological parent showed up and said, “He’s my kid, I’m taking him now,” the grandparents would not have to comply, at least until


Martha Evans Sparks is a Staff Writer for Living Well 60+ Magazine

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