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A Grandmother's Story

May 08, 1999

Today, 1.4 million children live in a grandparent-headed household with no parent present. While the trend crosses class and ethnic lines, it is most pronounced among poor, minority populations where substance abuse, immaturity, incarceration and AIDS are some of the causes blamed for a missing generation of parents. But not all stories are unhappy ones. Martha Carter of South-Central took on the parenting of Sandy Fletcher, her grandson, when he was 2. Fletcher, now 17, is an honors student at Inglewood High School. He also excels in sports; he is the MVP of the school's football and basketball teams. Qualified for a NCAA scholarship, Fletcher plans to announce his college choice next week.

On the occasion of Mother's Day, Carter spoke with MARY REESE BOYKIN on the special challenges of rearing a grandchild.

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It's hard to raise a grandchild. As a grandmother, your inclination is to spoil them. But when you become their mother, you have to be harder on them. When I took in Sandy, I made up my mind that I was going to see it through, that I was always going to be there for him.

I am the mother of five. Sandy is my daughter's son. When he was 2 years old, I noticed that he had a burn on his thigh. I questioned how he got it and when I took him to the doctor, Social Services was called. Sandy was placed in a foster home in Pomona for about two months. I went to court and got custody of him because I didn't want him in the system.

There are concerns that I have as a grandmother that I didn't have as a mother. I felt it was very important for me to teach Sandy to stand up for himself because I didn't know how long I would be around.

I made sure that I instilled values in him. For example, I don't like lying and stealing. I can't live with those types of people, so Sandy knew those were behaviors that I wouldn't tolerate.

I am a homebody; I don't know what is going on out there in the streets. Sandy picked up on things himself, like what not to wear. If I bought him something blue, he would let me know that he couldn't wear that color in our neighborhood.

When it comes to girls, I tried to convince him to wait until he turned 16 to have a girlfriend. I told him to have friends but no serious relationships because I wanted him to stay focused on school and sports. He hasn't brought a girlfriend home yet, but he gets lots of calls.

Sandy and I do lots of talking. Whatever happens that day, he tells me . . . that he made an A on a test, that he had an argument with another student, that he had a good practice in football or basketball.

I'm there whenever he needs me. If he needs a hug, I give him one. He knows there are times when I need a hug, too, so he gives me one. Sandy was easy to raise. He didn't want anything negative in his life.

Every now and then, I have picked up on some jealousy between Sandy and my youngest daughter, who is 10 years older than Sandy. But I remind him, "I didn't have a choice with her. I chose you."

Bringing up Sandy has added dimensions to my life. During the past five years, I have traveled all over the state to his football and basketball tournaments. When he was 9 years old, he brought papers home for Pop Warner football. He had already filled them out. He just needed my signature. Sandy has been good for me, just to keep me going. I wouldn't have had much of a reason to go anywhere if it weren't for him.

Everybody gets different experiences through different kids. Some people don't raise their grandchildren; they let someone else take them in. I am glad that I had room in my heart to have Sandy in my life. Raising him was something I wanted to do. Family is family, and I believe in trying to keep family together. What I know is that somebody missed out on something that's really special.

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