Why only use Facebook to find long lost family members when you can use the social network to find a new family? Not blood relatives, but your family of choice.
How about using Facebook to become a grandparent?
Plenty of people have chosen not to have kids or have kids who’ve chosen not to become parents, and in a time of fractured marriages and single-parent homes, some grandparents have no relationship with their grandchildren. As someone with no grandchild of my own, I found myself feeling envious of my friends who had them. I really wanted that kind of close relationship with a child. I thought I might volunteer with children, but found out that mentoring is limited to locations like schools and community centers, and requires an extensive vetting process with lengthy applications and criminal background checks. It’s hard to find an opportunity for an unsupervised relationship.
I wanted to take a child to the movies, to the theater, museums, even on vacations—to show him or her the world as I would do with my own grandchild. I didn’t want to be investigated by Homeland Security.
It seems I wasn’t the only one.
Enter the Surrogate Grandparents Facebook group. It’s only been in existence for two years and already has over 2,200 members nationwide.
Surrogate Grandparents was started by Donna Supitilov Skora, a self-described alienated grandmother. “Unfortunately alienated grandparents are a widespread problem,” she says. “There is no law covering grandparents’ rights.” Skora’s son has two children whom he refuses to let her see.
Not everyone yearns for grandkids, but for those who do, Skora has made her Facebook process relatively simple. You join the private group and post an introduction about yourself. Then, you take a look at the list of families who are looking for people to act as grandparents to their kids—people whose own parents live far away, are estranged or have died, and who want their children to have a relationship with an older person.
Once you’ve joined the group, you can scan the families that are looking for a grandparent, and when you find a family you think will be a good match, it’s up to you and the parents to communicate by email, phone, Skype or some other means.
Finding the Right Match
Skora admits that finding a match isn’t so easy. “The parents and grandparents have to become friends first, and then the relationship with the children will fall into place. That takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Does it work? If you keep at it, yes, Skora says. And when it does, you may find that you have a relationship not just with a child, but with that child’s family, too.
It’s a matter of finding a good connection. The first couple that Skora and her husband connected with only wanted them as trip-takers and gift-givers. “They broke it off because we weren’t doing what they wanted for their kids financially.”
However, she did find another family through the site and now has a strong connection with Janine, a single mom, and her 13-year-old daughter. “They live in Long Island, and we live in Florida. They have no other family due to Janine’s abusive marriage,” Skora says. “Shortly after Janine joined the group, she reached out to someone and never got a response. From that point on, we began messaging each other. She took her daughter on a surprise cruise, and since they flew into Orlando, we met up with them. We continued to text each other daily and began video chatting.”
Skora, Janine and her daughter have spent more time together in Florida, and when Janine’s daughter is confirmed in May, “Grandma and Grandpa” will fly out for the event. But much of the time, it’s a long-distance relationship. “For Christmas, they gave me a bracelet engraved with the words ‘Best Grandma.'” Skora says. “I have crocheted gifts for both of them, and they send us little gifts and cards. We feel as though they are our long-distance daughter and granddaughter. The connection just fell into place and has continued to grow. We are there for them. It just feels like it was meant to be.”
Surrogate Grandparent Stories
“I had a big hole in my heart, and they filled the hole”
Naomi Swartz, a 63-year-old retired court stenographer who lives in Toms River, New Jersey, found her new family via Skora’s Facebook Group. Swartz is divorced and has a 41-year-old son but, like many who find their way to the group, she’s estranged from him and her grandchildren. About a year ago, she connected with a young couple, Kelly and Frank, both of whom had lost their own parents. They live fairly close to Swartz with their daughter Anna, who’s three-and-a-half.
“They visit me all the time,” Swartz says. “I’m Grandma Nomi to Anna, and my 92-year-old mom, who lives with me, is Gramma Gloria.”
Grandma Nomi and Anna go on outings, and they all spent last Thanksgiving and Christmas together. “They’ve meant everything to me,” Swartz says. “After being estranged from my own grandchildren I had a big hole in my heart, and they filled the hole. Kelly is like a daughter to me. We talk on the phone during the week, and we email and text. We ask each other’s opinion about everything. I got lucky. They were the first couple I met.”
“They’re tattooed and came from a rough background. Despite that, it works.”
Another “surrogate grandmother” moved from New York State to Dayton, Ohio six years ago to be closer to both of her own daughters and grandchildren. Unfortunately, one daughter developed a mental illness and became convinced that her mom was going to kidnap her son, so she’s not allowed to see him. Her other daughter lives too far away for regular visits.
“I missed going to the kids’ schools and seeing their concerts, going to the library with them, having my grandkids come for dinner, so I signed up as a surrogate grandparent. The mom I ended up connecting with had lost the grandparents who raised her, and her husband had lost his parents, too.”
This woman’s new family has a 15-month-old and a four-year-old, and lives 10 miles away. At first they would meet the in the library, and “Grammie” would read books to the kids. They got to know each other gradually, then went to dinner together and hit it off.
“They are nothing like us,” she says. “They’re tattooed and came from a rough background. Despite that, it works. I can pick the children up to play—whatever their mom says is what I go by.” She and her husband recently had both kids for a couple of days, and spent Christmas Eve with family, along with various aunts and uncles. “We are called Grammie and Grandpa. We like to fish, kayak, do things together. When I was in the hospital right before Christmas, she showed up in the emergency room. It has brought so much joy to both our families. Every once in a while I get scared that they’ll leave. She said no need to worry, she and husband feel like we’re their parents.”
“It’ll be a year in February, but this is permanent.”
How to Become a Surrogate Grandparent
You can sign up by joining the Facebook group—if you need help, Skora will walk you through that process. Once you’ve hit the “Join” button at the top of the group page, you’ll get a notice that you’re approved, and at that point you can take a look at the PDF document that lists all the families. If there’s a family you’d like to meet, you can tag them or, if you’re not familiar with tagging, provide your information in the comments section of the introductory post, and/or send Skora a personal message; she’ll send a message to the family you want to meet. Skora also recommends that you post an introduction about yourself. You can email Skora for help at email@example.com.
Skora doesn’t do background checks—it’s all up to you. Listen to your gut feelings and, when you start connecting by message, Facebook or email, if you feel you need a background check you can go to your local sheriff’s office and ask for one for $25. Understand that the parents may also be nervous—they won’t turn their kids over to a stranger right away.
Making it a success
Don’t rush into it, Skora says. Be open to the possibility that after a few months, your connection may not work. Be honest with each other. If you feel that it’s not working, go with your gut. It’s a process—keep trying.
“The Surrogate Grandparents Facebook Group” was first published on seniorplanet.org and updated on 3/7/17 to protect the identity of an interviewee.
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I wonder if any of you who are already “surrogate or honorary” grandmothers are having any problems with other family members accepting the situation? I am honorary “Nana” to my Goddaughters’ children, Anna age 7 and Ethan age 4. Their maternal grandmother is one of my best friends but their paternal g’mother lives thousands of miles away and sees them only every 2 years. I was asked by the parents before Anna was born if I would be their Children’s honorary g’mother and I was delighted to accept. I have been there since day 1 in both of their lives, at every occasion, every celebration, every holiday, etc and I love it–but more importantly, I love them like my own flesh and blood!!! I keep them every Wednesday and Friday evening so I am very involved in their lives. At first, my husband loved them and really enjoyed them being around but lately he has turned on them and doesn’t want them at our house. My son (age 26) can’t stand them—-out of pure jealousy. My mother is always making snide remarks about “why is it your job to take care of them; they have parents,” or “are they coming with us?” Just last night, my sister and brother-in-law were visiting from Michigan and made comments about me “always bringing those children along wherever I go.” Unfortunately, I lost my temper and told them what I thought———-but, I just don’t understand why people think that you can’t love someone if they’re not your own flesh and blood relative!! I have a very unhappy marriage, my son has NO time for me and I live a very lonely existence so these children are my only joy and happiness!! Does it seen like I am being unreasonable about wanting them in my life? Not to mention, the children love me and are so excited to go to my house every time I pick them up. What would you do in this situation? I feel like everyone is against me when all I’m trying to do is open up my heart to two beautiful and precious children that need me as much as I need them!!
I’m very interested in this program. I’m 63 years old, still actively working and raised two young men who are doing well and a positive contribution to society. They have no children and would love the opportunity to have an extended family and experiences being a grandma or “glam-ma”.
Hi Susan…my name is Shelley, I’m 69 and came upon this website today as I too, have a whole in my heart for some of the same reasons as you. I would say to you – what God brings together, then move forward in full assurance. But, you also have your own family, good or bad, and whether their feelings or reasons seem wrong to you or unfair, those children are not a part of their lives and you cannot expect them to feel the way you do. Therefore, find new ways to connect and be together with these children that you love, without involving your husband and son.
That’s the right thing to do.
Yes, if there are untreated problems with any grandparents, the child should not be exposed. But…a dog does not quite satisfy the need to nurture children when one has lost a grandchild through alienation and no explanation is given. The heartbreak is worse than a death because the child is still alive and you cannot see him/her. If one has tried to resolve their own family break to no avail, and some time has passed, why not take a chance and find a child/family to become part of your life?
How do you connect with someone in your own city? I was a single mom with no family and help – bi breaks. I want to be there for someone who was like me and needs someone close to give them a break every once in a while and some time to themselves
Shelly, as the author of a book about divorce and older women, “He’s History You’re Not; Surviving Divorce After Forty,” I’ve done a lot of research and I CAN tell you that fractured extended families are common in this age of divorce. Grandparents DO get left out, just as a matter of convenience if nothing else. If the new wife or husband wants nothing to do with the former family and doesn’t want to keep up the relationship it often just falls by the wayside. As for vetting, I noted that there IS no organization that facilitates an unsupervised mentoring relationship with children no matter how much vetting. As for me, I have no grandchildren and am a former foster parent so being a surrogate grandparent is a natural role for me.
You need to open your eyes & your mind…I am from Hawaii, where “ohana” family groups are commonplace… work well out of $ necessity of combining incomes to pay household expenses in very expensive locale…unrelated by blood or marriage . Works great! I moved to Las Vegas & continued lifestyle here with success … have roommate also from Hi that I met here.
The traditional family structure we grew up with is no more… welcome to Reality ! You need to be more open to other options that work for all concerned.
As someone now supporting my partner and his young daughter through a traumatizing custody battle with “alienated” grandparents, this is incredibly disturbing. For the record, I have had a wonderful, close relationship with my grandparents, and I strongly believe in the value of a healthy, positive relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. However, there are reasons why *all* adults seeking a relationship with children who are not related to them must go through various levels of vetting and background checks– it’s for the safety of the child, physically and mentally. You may not understand why your child will not let you contact your grandchildren, but you should accept that, and seek help to understand your relationship with your children and why that might be. Don’t just seek out some other child to give you adoration and boost your own self-worth. I consider this a form of emotional abuse – when adults project their unexamined emotional issues on children, they are denied their own identity and freedom of choice. This is why we have legal and social structures in place to protect children. Why are you so fixated on being involved with a young child, but unwilling to undergo standard background checks because it’s inconvenient to you? If you are eager to have a relationship and make a positive impact in a child’s life, why are you unwilling to be vetted, just as all teachers and childcare givers are required to do? If you feel lonely or unfulfilled, why is that? Do some self-reflection, practice good self-care for your mental and emotional health, and seek professional counseling to examine these feelings. Someone else’s child should not be responsible for your emotional wellbeing. In our case, our relatives’ neuroses, narcissistic personality disorder, and untreated alcoholism, filtered through their unhealthy obsession with my partner’s daughter, is costing us thousands of dollars in legal fees, mental and emotional strain, and consequences to our careers – all of which negatively effect the very child they allege is being irredeemably harmed by not being in contact with them at their whim and unreasonable scheduling demands.Get professional help, and get a dog. Leave families in peace.
Shelly, with each and every situation, there are differing dynamics involved. I started the group in order to try to turn our negative situation into something positive, because there was absolutely nothing we could do to try to change things. It was our son’s and daughter-n-law’s decision to alienate us from their lives as well as the lives of the children. Now for the dynamics behind our situation. Yes, there are two grandsons involved. This is our son’s second marriage. The youngest son is from that marriage. The older son is from her first marriage. Now mind you, before everything went south, we believe that the relationship we had with the older boy, our son and daughter-n-law, before the birth of the younger boy, was a happy relationship. We fell in love with that child as well as our daughter-n-law. We got together with them frequently and always had that child in mind and planned things around him, and with him in mind. We came to love him as our very own grandchild. Then she becomes pregnant. Along with that pregnancy, they begin to verbally and emotionally abuse us. Anything we said or did, they found fault with. In fact, accusations that we would favor the new baby over the older child were thrown at us. We knew that the father of the older boy was only allowed visitation of that child under direct supervision in that home, which seemed odd to us. We also learned that the older boys grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, all who live in the same town as our son, daughter-n-law and step grandson, had no relationship with the older boy since he was 4, the time of the second divorce from Dad. Yes, they were married and divorced twice. Because of the ongoing verbal and emotional abuse we were experiencing, we reached out to the extended family of the older boy and learned that history was once again repeating itself, and we were the recipients. Therefore, the older boy, our step grandson, has at best, a strained relationship with his Dad, of which could be rectified by the father, through the court system by increasing his visitation rights. In addition, this older child has lost 2 extended families in his young life and our grandson has never even met us, nor does he even know we exist. The laws for grandparent visitation do not exist and since it is their choice not to allow extended family to have any relationship with the children, we are pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place. It is heartbreaking, but life must go on, so we do the best we can. Forming this group is what I have done to make the best and do the best that we can.
I applaud you and I sympathize with you. I am currently going through almost exactly the same thing and I am devastated emotionally. I also believe that my son is emotionally abusing the step grandchild. I like you have exhsusted myself trying to fix this situation but to no avail. Everything that I do or say is wrong. I miss my grandchildren.
Well said Shelly. And from Ms. Skora response, it seems she totally missed the point.
Shelly sounds like a condescending, verbally abusive bully. I, personally, would want nothing to do with her and her pseudo arm chair psychological nonsense.
Some seniors are lonely and have time for and much love to give a child that might be lonely as well. I grew up as an only child of a single, working mother. How I would have loved to have a surrogate grandmother to spend time with, talk to etc.
Shelly makes it sound as if we are creepy, incomplete people with a nefarious agenda. What’s going on, or has gone on in her life to come to this conclusion, I wonder.
Regarding the vetting process, a criminal background check can easily be done. If that’s such a concern. In my case, I’ve completed the RFA process in California. Parents should complete this process. Background check, classes, hours of form filling. Pretty much anyone could pass. Doesn’t mean they would make a good candidate for parenthood or grandparent.
Shelly dear, you are a disrespectful snot. Whom I hope never to meet. There are too many like you out there as it is. You sound emotionally immature.
Shelly has issues.
Come over for coffee if you ever get to W Washington.