Bucks County grandparents’ book showcases different family structures

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When Beth Jester was looking for children’s books to read to her grandchildren, she had difficulties finding one that fully represented her situation.

Jester has been raising her two grandchildren, Kianna, 9, and Kayden, 7, with her husband, John Jester, since they were 2.5 years and 4 months old, as a result of their parents’ addiction.

Despite continued search efforts for the right book, she remained unsuccessful. That’s when inspiration struck.

In May, Jester published her first children’s book, “We Live with Nana and Grandpa,” a story about two biracial grandchildren, Sophia and Aiden, who are raised by their grandparents.

Jester also has started a support group for families in similar situations.

The book has served as a way to help her grandkids, and others, understand their family and showcase how every family is uniquely different.

“I felt that there was a need and that’s why I wrote it for other families,” she said.

Other grandparents are finding similar comfort for their own situations.

Laurie Pepe, a former coworker of Beth’s and friend of 11 years, said “there’s a great need for what she’s doing.”

A grandmother of four with her grandkids living in her house, Pepe, 65, of Chalfont, said it’s been a challenge.

“We’ve supported each other along the way,” said Pepe. “It’s great to have somebody you can lean on.”

Upon hearing Beth’s idea to write a book, Pepe said she was supportive of the idea since books like these are missing components.

Throughout the book process, Pepe said Beth would run ideas by her and she served as a second set of eyes.

“Nobody thinks about it. Nobody knows about it,” said Pepe. “We’re there from morning until bedtime. It’s like a 24/7 job and it’s not one you’re prepared for. You raise your kids but you don’t think you’re going to be a hands-on parent again.”

Pepe said she hopes the book gives kids a safety net and an opportunity to see that every family looks different.

“When you see kids come to school, you see one small side of who they are and who they belong to but when you read this book, you get a better idea,” she said.

Sue Steege, another friend and neighbor of Beth and John for over 30 years, said they’re caring and generous people and they persevere in whatever they take on.

Steege, 62, of New Britain, said she knew Beth was going through the book-writing process and her role throughout it was a “listening ear.”

The premise of the book, which is that families look different, is a really important message, especially for kids that don’t want to be seen as different, but as valued individuals, said Steege.

“It’s painting a picture that it’s called family too,” said Steege. “Understanding the value of that diversity and what it brings to families and communities can really enable greater impact.”

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Jester said it’s common for grandchildren to have a difficult time with the situation, especially looking at their own classmates and their family dynamics, and it affects many kids’ self esteem.

Kids might even ask: “Why does my family look like this? Why does your family look like that? Is it all OK? Is it all normal?”

“I want them to take away that however your family looks, is perfect, just for your family and other families will look differently,” Jester said.

After reading her book to her grandchildren, Jester said the kids loved it and were excited to see themselves physically in the story as well as able to directly report to it.

“I think it will help children who aren’t only in grand families but others understand that the child sitting next to you may have a different looking family than you and all is OK,” Jester said.

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Support group created for grandfamilies

When Jester and her husband first started raising her grandchildren, she said it was a difficult and exhausting time, even isolating at points.

The biggest difficulty she faced was not having anyone in the same situation and not knowing where to turn to for support.

With her husband working full time, Jester said she chose to quit her job and it was lonely at times, but she “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Jester said she searched for support groups during this time but was once again unsuccessful.

Then, in 2019, Jester started the Bucks County Grand Families Support Group out of the Lenape Valley Church in New Britain, and has run the group since.

The support group meets in the fall, spring and informally in the summer and has been a wonderful experience getting to learn new things and help others in her same situation, she said.

Karen Figueroa, a member of the grand families support group, said she met Beth and John while looking for assistance in raising her own granddaughter and they’ve been more than helpful.

Figueroa, 66, of Doylestown, has been raising her granddaughter, Mariana, for 10 years and said her biggest takeaway from the experience is learning to express one’s fears and finding people to talk to who have gone through similar situations.

“When you hear what other people are going through your stuff isn’t anywhere near as bad as what other people have,” said Figueroa. “It’s very rewarding to try to help other people. It really is.”

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The numbers

According to the According to Generations United, a support network for grandfamiles and kinship:

  • Over 2.6 million children are being raised by a grandparent, other relative or close family friend and do not have a parent living in the household
  • Over 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren
  • Over 61% of grandparents responsible for their grandchildren have raised them for at least three years
  • More than 45% have raised them for five plus years
  • In Pennsylvania, 235,515 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren

Figueroa said the types of families are changing these days and there are many grandparents involved and raising their grandkids.

“It needs to be out there more so that the children are educated on it,” said Figueroa. “It’s not, ‘Don’t talk about it. Let’s not talk about it.’ Talk about it and get it out in the open.”

Anita Bell, pastor at Lenape Valley Church for seven years, said it’s been wonderful watching the grand family ministry grow under Beth and seeing families come in and find a safe haven.

Bell, of Montgomery County, said she’s been a part of the kids’ lives since the beginning and encouraged and supported Beth throughout the book process and overall.

To her, the book is an attempt to create a normal view of what most people consider to be abnormal.

“This book was written to the children to help the kids see that this can be a happy, healthy, normal family,” said Bell. “I am hoping that this book becomes more mainstream, not just for grand family kids, but for our culture so that we begin to redefine what healthy families can look like.”

Being a grandmother of three herself, spending time with her grandchildren, whom she loves with all her heart, is the most precious time in the world for her.

Unlike Beth and John though, who are getting their grandkids to bed and dealing with everything the children have gone through, Bell said she has the option to return them to their parents and go to bed at the end of the day.

“It is an incredible sacrifice of love,” said Bell. “What they are doing, it means their grandkids are going to have a life and a hope and a future.”

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