Grandmother says age doesn’t define those who can adopt
Nineteen years later, Raelyn Stoll has grown into a productive member of St. Charles Parish. Growing up, she was a cheerleader, a dancer and a St. Charles Farm Bureau Queen. Now she is happily married and expecting a child of her own.
Stoll’s life could have been drastically different if Bye had not decided to adopt her.
“I had all these opportunities that I would never have gotten to do with my mother,” Stoll said. “Being raised by my grandparents…we always argued a lot because I never understood why I didn’t have a real mom like everybody else did and why I had to be raised by them.
“It wasn’t until I got older and now that I’m pregnant with my own child that I realize I’m blessed to have them and I am very thankful that they took that role as my family.”
While raising Raelyn, Bye learned a lot of lessons “the hard way” and now she wants to share her knowledge with other grandparents who either adopted their grandchildren or who are their grandchild’s primary care giver.
She plans to start a group called Grandparents Helping Grandparents in which adopters can offer each other support and advice from experience.
“If you contact the state or parish, they can help in a lot of different ways, but it’s not a personal touch,” Bye said. “Each story, each person has something to share, to give you that hope and to give you something to go by to know that you can do it.”
In Louisiana in 2008, more than 700 children were adopted by family members. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000 there were 6 million children nationally who were living in a grandparent- or other relative-headed household.
Bye started a group in Gretna for grandparent adopters when she first adopted Raelyn, but since moving to St. Charles Parish 15 years ago, she said she has not relied much on support from other grandparents.
“The group (in Gretna) wasn’t a big, formal organization. It was just a small support group,” she said. “But I would like to take it to the next level to see what I can do to help people.
“I want seniors and mature women to know that anything they want to do, they can do. Don’t let your age define you.”
Bye said that she “jumped in with both feet and head first” when she decided to adopt Raelyn.
“It was very much worth it to see her today and the sacrifices that I made because I tried to give her a better life than she would have gotten,” Bye said. “I learned we all have to make sacrifices in our lives to achieve the things we want if not for ourselves, then for others in our family…Everything we do in life is a challenge, but my belief is that circumstances and trials don’t make you who you are, they just reveal who you are.”
Bye said that she had to totally change her life to accommodate for Raelyn and she wants to share her experiences with others who may be going through the same thing.
“I had to change my job and get a night job and take care of her during the day - it wasn’t an option,” she said. “The older I got, the harder it got…I had to put my life on hold while I was raising her and making sure she had a good life.
“I was lucky because I took care of myself - I’m healthy and I’ve always been outgoing, but some people don’t have health and the kids are walking all over them. Sometimes we need somebody to give us that extra little boost.”
There are many reasons that grandparents adopt their biological grandchildren, including death of a parent, parental substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, divorce and poverty.
Bye hopes that any grandparents who need help or advice in raising or taking care of their grandchildren, regardless of their reasons, will call her to start a support group. She can be reached at (985)785-2766.
“They can call even if they are just babysitting a lot, or raising the child without adopting,” Bye said.
She wants to exchange ideas with other grandparents and provide a forum for them to help each other with things like clothing swaps.
“I think the group will be very helpful because I know a lot of people who have been adopted by their grandparents and feel the same way that I did,” Stoll said. “I know it’s a burden on grandparents because they finished raising their children and now they have the responsibility when they’re much older to raise a grandchild.
“They don’t have that luxury of being a grandparent - they have to be the mother.”
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