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Grandmother Raising Five Grandchildren Gets Help, Gives Help with Assist from Boys Town Texas

Mercedes and her five grandchildren (left to right): Valentina, 12; Augustine, 11; Leeleeya, 14; Marina, 8; and Paul, 5

​Mercedes Bristol admits she felt lost and overwhelmed.

Already experiencing major challenges with raising one grandson, the single grandmother faced the prospect of taking in four more grandchildren.

But that's what Mercedes did. And thanks to some timely help from Boys Town Texas, she and her family are doing fine.

Mercedes' household first grew by one when her son's son, Paul, came to live with her after being removed from his home by Child Protective Services (CPS). Paul had health issues but the young boy and his grandmother began to bond and she soon felt somewhat comfortable with the idea of caring for him.

Then things changed dramatically.

Paul's four siblings from another mother – Marina, Augustine, Valentina and Leeleeya – had nowhere to go when they too were removed from their home by CPS. Mercedes was the only family member who could take them in.

"I was absolutely lost when I got all the rest of the kids," Mercedes said. "Paul had a difficult time sharing me with the other four grandchildren. The oldest was 9 and the youngest was 3 at the time. I was totally overwhelmed."

Mercedes said other people who learned of her situation offered to help.

"Everyone tells you, 'Ms. Bristol, just tell us what you need.' But I had no idea what I needed," Mercedes said. "I didn't know where to start. It was a very trying time. The only thing to ask for was someone to come and help me care for the children in order for me to have some respite. No one offered that."

"I went through several sources. I asked the question, 'Why don't schools have a resource list for parents or guardians who need help?'"

That question led Mercedes to take an important step. She decided to start a support group for grandparents who were raising their grandchildren. It would provide grandparents with helpful resources and information, or just a caring ear to listen to their stories.

Mercedes said the best advice she received was to contact Boys Town Texas.

Mercedes found out the site in San Antonio offered a Common Sense Parenting® class led by Maria Benavidez, a Boys Town Texas In-Home Family Services supervisor. Mercedes said she attended the class with the hope that Maria could help recruit other grandparents for her support group.

"I completed the entire six weeks in Common Sense Parenting," Mercedes said proudly. "And after that, I had In-Home Family Services come into my home. Andres Guzman was my case manager. I really implemented the Boys Town suggestions. Most kids hate chores, but with Andres' coaching, I implemented a 'Job Jar' and a 'Joy Jar.' The children wrote down what their jobs and their joys were going to be and placed them in jars. When they did not do what they were expected to do, the kids would go to the Job Jar where they took a piece of paper and that was their chore until completion. They liked it, and even accepted the responsibility."

Mercedes said she doesn't know what she would have done without Boys Town's help.

"Structure works for me," she said. "Boys Town really helped me by having the children write schedules in order to establish everyday patterns. Andres gave me ideas. And he gave me personal support in finding dental assistance since I retired without medical benefits. More than anything, Maria and Andres helped me be positive and believe I could do it. There was always someone there for me."

Mercedes even started her own Facebook page to help other grandparents. It's called "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group." She also is an advocate for grandparents who are in her situation, going to public officials to seek policy changes that will benefit those caregivers.

"I don't have all the answers," Mercedes said. "But the group can share experiences, both good and bad, and maybe it will help ​someone out when they need somewhere to turn. I also share the things I have learned from Boys Town with other grandparents and invite them to contact Boys Town to get the same help that I received."​​