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Only B. Adam, Bucks County Courier Times
When Beth Jester was looking for children’s books to read to her grandchildren, she had trouble finding one that fully reflected 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 due to their parents’ addiction.
Despite a continued search for the right book, she was unsuccessful. Then the inspiration struck.
In May, Jester published her first children’s book, We Live With Nana and Grandpa, a story about two mixed-race grandchildren, Sophia and Aiden, who are being raised by their grandparents.
Jester has also started a support group for families in similar situations.
The book has served to help her grandchildren and others to understand their families and how unique each family is.
“I felt it was necessary, and that’s why I wrote it for other families,” she said.
Other grandparents find similar comfort in their own situations.
Laurie Pepe, a former co-worker of Beth and a friend of 11 years, said, “There’s a great need for what she does.”
A grandmother of four with her grandchildren living in her home, Pepe, 65, from Chalfont, said it had been a challenge.
“We supported each other in this,” said Pepe. “It’s great to have someone to lean on.”
When Pepe heard about Beth’s idea of writing a book, she said she supported the idea as books like this lacked missing components.
Throughout the book process, Pepe said that Beth would execute ideas from her and she served as a second set of eyes.
“Nobody thinks about it. Nobody knows about it,” Pepe said. “We are there for you from morning until bedtime. It’s like a 24/7 job that you’re not prepared for. You raise your kids, but you don’t think you’ll be a hands-on parent again.”
Pepe said she hopes the book will give children a safety net and a chance to see that every family is different.
“When you see kids coming to school, you see a little side of who they are and who owns them, 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 are caring and generous people and persevere in whatever they set their minds to.
Steege, 62, from New Britain, said she knows Beth is going through the process of writing a book and her role in it is a “listening ear”.
The book’s premise that families look different is a really important message, especially for children who don’t want to be seen as different but as valued individuals, Steege said.
“It paints a picture that is also called family,” said Steege. “Understanding the value of this diversity and what it brings to families and communities can really make a bigger impact.”
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Jester said it’s common for grandchildren to have a difficult time with the situation, especially considering their own classmates and family dynamics, and it hurts many children’s self-esteem.
Children might even ask, “Why does my family look like this? Why does your family look like this? Is everything ok? Is everything normal?”
“I want them to take away that your family’s look is perfect, only for your family and other families will look different,” Jester said.
After reading her book to her grandchildren, Jester said the children loved it and were excited to see themselves physically in the story and be able to relate to it directly.
“I think it will help kids who not only live in big families, but also others who understand that the kid that’s sitting next to you might have a different looking family than you and everything is fine,” Jester said .
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Founded self-help group for large families
As Jester and her husband began raising their grandchildren, she said it was a difficult and trying time, even isolated at times.
The biggest difficulty she faced was not having anyone in the same situation and not knowing who to turn to for support.
Since her husband works full-time, Jester said she’s decided to quit her job and it’s lonely at times, but she “wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Jester said she looked into support groups during this time but was again unsuccessful.
Then, in 2019, Jester formed the Bucks County Grand Families Support Group out of Lenape Valley Church in New Britain and has led the group ever since.
The support group meets in the fall, spring and informally in the summer, and it’s been a wonderful experience learning new things and helping others in their same situation, she said.
Karen Figueroa, a member of the Extended Families support group, said she met Beth and John when she was looking for help raising her own granddaughter and they were more than helpful.
Figueroa, 66, from Doylestown, has been raising her granddaughter Mariana for 10 years and said her biggest gain from the experience has been learning to express her fears and finding people to talk to who have been through similar situations.
“If you hear what other people are going through, your stuff isn’t nearly as bad as what other people have,” Figueroa said. “It is very rewarding to try to help other people. It’s really.”
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According to Generations United, a support network for extended families and kinship:
- Over 2.6 million children are raised by grandparents, other relatives or close family friends and have no parent living in the household
- Over 2.4 million grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren
- Over 61% of grandparents who are responsible for their grandchildren have raised them for at least three years
- More than 45% have raised them for more than five years
- In Pennsylvania, 235,515 grandparents are responsible for their grandchildren
Figueroa said that the types of families are changing these days and that many grandparents are involved and raising their grandchildren.
“There needs to be more out there for the kids to be educated about,” Figueroa said. “It’s not, ‘Don’t talk about it. Let’s not talk about it.’ Talk about it and make it public.”
Anita Bell, a pastor at Lenape Valley Church for the past seven years, said it’s wonderful to see the large family ministry growing under Beth and families coming and finding a safe haven.
Bell, of Montgomery County, said she was a part of the children’s lives from the beginning and encouraged and supported Beth throughout the book process and overall.
For her, the book is an attempt to create a normal view of what most people find abnormal.
“This book was written for the children to show them that this can be a happy, healthy, normal family,” Bell said. “I hope this book becomes more mainstream, not only for the children of the extended family, but also for our culture, so that we can start redefining what healthy families can look like.”
As a grandmother of three, 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, who put their grandchildren to bed and grapple with everything the kids have been through, Bell said she has the option to take them back to their parents and go to bed at the end of the day.
“It’s an incredible sacrifice of love,” Bell said. “What they are doing means that their grandchildren will have a life and a hope and a future.”