After retiring from the military and long after raising her only child, Conyers resident Natalie Hannans was called for another type of active duty two years ago — raising her 10-year-old grandson.
Hannans and her husband Jeffrey, both retired Army, stepped in to help their daughter Sharee following her recent divorce. A staff sergeant in the Army, Sharee was in between deployments and working on base in San Antonio when she sought help raising her only son Shaun. Suddenly, the 50-year-old grandmother dusted off her daily mothering skills and opened the door to give her grandson a stable, supportive home.
“Everything is a learning experience,” said Hannans of the two years she and Shaun have spent adjusting to living together. “It’s been challenging, but I am blessed that I am able to do what we need to do right now.”
One immediate challenge was finding the right education environment for Shaun. After trying a couple of schools, they decided to homeschool Shaun. Now in sixth grade, both grandparents and grandson are heavily involved in the community and in their church, Living Water of Christ Church.
The family is also active with the American Legion, and Shaun enjoys Boy Scouts. His grandmother said he is a typical boy who enjoys typical boy things such as track, camping, swimming and, most importantly, gaming.
“When he was little, you could take him with you while you do your stuff, but it took me a couple of months to realize we have to do his stuff, too,” Hannans said. “The best part (of homeschooling) is we get to do things we wouldn’t usually get to do, and it gives us a chance to be involved in the community.” Just like last summer, Shaun and Hannans are looking forward to participating in the USDA “Feed the Kids” program that provides meals for children.
“I try to keep him motivated and around activities like that,” Hannans said. “He is a good kid and he is happy because we just want him to be kid. The most important thing is don’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy who they are. Let them be kids. You can see the potential in them, but you have to remind yourself they are just a kid and they are developing.”
The Hannans sought fellowship and solace through the Kinship Care program, which was designed to provide resources for grandparents raising grandchildren.
The program meets two Thursdays a month at 5 p.m. at the Olivia Haydel Senior Center and provides resources to help smooth the transition while also giving kids being raised by their grandparents a chance to interact with each other.
“In the short time I have worked with them, I have seen their dedication to raising the kids in today’s society, which is completely different than when they raised their own children,” Kinship Care coordinator Holly Sammons said. “It is a completely different world because of changes in education and society’s expectations of children these days.
“Their sense of humor with all the stuff kids go through now is what carries them through all the issues there are today.
“These meetings not only give educational tools and training sessions but also provide fellowship and emotional support.”
For Hannans, the grandparents group gives her the chance to be “off duty” twice a month to congregate with other grandparents raising their grandchildren.
With an average of 10 to 12 grandparents actively participating in the program, the meetings are also a chance for other grandchildren to interact.
As for Shaun, he gets a chance to see his grandmother trying her hardest to resume her daily mothering skills and provide a stable and happy home for him.
Admittedly still a little homesick even after two years in Georgia, he speaks to his mother on a daily basis and visits her often.
“It’s nice living here, but I miss living in San Antonio with my mom,” Shaun said. “My grandma is doing a good job. She can be sometimes strict, and sometimes I really don’t communicate. But I really like helping people and I want to be in the military like my family.”
For more information on the Kinship Care Program, visit the Senior Services page at rockdalecounty.org.