Jody Mitchell is a busy woman, the dark haired 45-year-old smiles easily and has an infectious laugh. Mitchell's sense of humor often gets her through the day, she and her husband are raising their three grandchildren. Mitchell never thought at this point in life she would be changing diapers, potty training kids or sitting up nights with a sick baby.
Mitchell is a mom again because her daughter and husband suffer from a mental illness. She admits it's tough and says the situation has created some resentment towards her daughter.
"They (the parents) get to play the role of grandparents and we have to play the role of parents. They get to come in and visit with the kids and do all the fun things, the hugs and kisses," says Mitchell. "To have that part of my life taken away from me because, now I'm the disciplinarian."
Mitchell's situation is not unique. In fact, hers is one of about 71,000 kinship families in Minnesota. Sharon Durken, the director of the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association, says the non-profit group assists grandparents and relatives raising children.
Durken says surveys show that nationwide six million children are raised by their grandparents or other relatives. Minnesota ranks sixth out of all the states in the number of kinship families. It's a total that's growing fast.
"Drugs and alcohol play a really big role for parents who are unable to parent," says Durken. "Now we have the war, we have deployment, someone has to care for the children if the parents are going off to war, we have parents who have passed away, and mental illness plays a big role."
Durken understands the emotions involved in these situations. She was raised by her Aunt Helen and Uncle Henry. Durken remembers when she went to live with them she would hang onto her aunt's skirt everywhere they went. Finally her aunt told her she could let go; she would be there for her.
"That's one of the most valuable things about having children grow up with kin," says Durken. "Their family is always going to be there for them."
Keeping her grandkids with family is why Jody Mitchell is raising her daughter's three children. Mitchell says her daughter and husband haven't been able to straighten out their lives. The children, ages one, three and six were neglected, so Mitchell and her spouse decided to raise the kids.
"There's no such thing as retirement. My husband and I will not get that," says Mitchell. "To know that, when you planned your whole life, that eventually we are going to have time together, oh no your not, you might die before those kids are grown up."
To help Mitchell and other folks in the same situation, the Minnesota Kinship Caregivers Association offers help. Bonnie DeVore is the projects coordinator for northwest Minnesota.
DeVore says the group helps people like Mitchell through the maze of paperwork needed to get financial aid. They also organize support groups, she says it might not sound like much, but it does help.
"These people get together with other people who are doing similar things," says DeVore. "They have something in common, they realize they're not alone in doing this."
DeVore says people can get legal help, they can connect caregivers with mentors who understand the challenges faced by people raising a second family.
For Jody Mitchell attending support groups have been a big help. Especially the special diet for her grandson who needs low sugar foods.
Mitchell says times are different from when she raised her kids, but notes some things about child rearing will never change.
"And that is to have a roof over their head, food in their stomach and someone to love them," says Mitchell.
Mitchell says sometimes it gets very stressful at her house, but her humor shows through. She jokes that raising her daughter's three kids is no way to cure empty nest syndrome.