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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.