Keith Lowhorne and his wife Edie had big dreams for retirement: Traveling, fishing and gardening. Keith hoped to "never wear a tie again."
However, when given an opportunity to adopt their three grandchildren, they embraced their second phase of life: Parenthood 2.0.
"We were thrown into a world we knew nothing about," Keith, 65, told TODAY Parents. “Babies born with addiction.”
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The couple’s three grandchildren — Kyren, 8, Kaiser, 7, and Harper, 5 — were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Because their birth parents couldn’t meet their needs, the kids spent most of their time living with the Lowhornes, who happily provided love and care.
The Lowhornes are part of a bigger trend: The number of grandparents raising their grandchildren has been rising steadily, according to U.S. Census data.
“We’re more relaxed now (as parents) ... If the kids stay up until 11 p.m. because they took a nap, that’s OK.”
The Lowhornes had raised seven children in their blended family. At first, they had to adjust to being parents again, not grandparents. With their other grandchildren, they could spoil them for the day and then send them home to their parents over-sugared and happy.
When they started caring for three of their grandchildren full-time, they had to change their approach.
“We were new parents,” Keith said. “We were changing diapers, we had bottles.”
When they officially adopted the three children in December of 2018, "it’s what we had hoped for,” said Keith. “We could finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
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In some ways, parenting hasn’t changed much since Keith and Edie were first-timers. “Little kids still want to go fishing, show us their art projects and chase the ice cream truck,” he explained.
Keith needs help with some of it, though. He counts on Edie, who is 58, to help manage screen time on the kids' iPads and assorted gadgets. “She makes sure I choose kid-appropriate movies and TV shows,” he said. “‘Captain Kangaroo’ isn’t on TV nowadays.”
Many of Keith and Edie's friends are living the retired, empty nest life — traveling and going out to dinner. The Lowhornes' world is different. "We have young kids,” Keith noted. “So most of our friends, younger and older, are in the foster and adoption world. They know what we’re going through.”
“I said I’d never go to another children’s birthday party again, but it seems like there’s one every week,” noted Keith.
Keith is a member of the GRAND Voices Network under the non-profit Generations United, which advocates for "grandfamilies" like his, and he wants to help those re-entering parenthood.
This second shot at fatherhood has mellowed Keith's self-described "hard-ass" demeanor, he said.
“We’re more relaxed now (as parents)," he said. "If we have dinner at 4 p.m., that would not be a problem. If the kids stay up until 11 p.m. because they took a nap, that’s OK.”
"People see me now and think I’m a changed man," he added. "I wake up with a new purpose and it’s a blessing."