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ASU graduate student publishes children's book about her experience growing up in a 'grandfamily'

Almost eight million children in the United States are being raised by their grandparents

Arizona State University graduate student Brittany Avent and author Dr. Nichola Gutgold, who wrote “Growing Up in a Grandfamily, Within Our Chosen Family Village.

Arizona State University graduate student Brittany Avent and author Dr. Nichola Gutgold, who wrote “Growing Up in a Grandfamily, Within Our Chosen Family Village.

A black, curly-haired toddler approached the signing desk with a big grin. In one hand, a thin green book and a finger pointed at a small photo portrait on the back of ASU alumna Brittany Avent.

Discovering one of the joys of becoming a first-time child author, Brittany, 28, hosted a Phoenix book signing on Nov. 4 to showcase her recently-published book, “Growing Up in a Grandfamily: Within Our Chosen Family Village.” Brittany co-wrote the book with Nichola Gutgold.

Almost eight million children in the United States are being raised in "grandfamilies," the situation where grandparents are the head of the household and raise their children’s children instead of their actual parents.

Her book chronicles her experience of being raised by her grandparents, as well as their close ties to the Clinton family since her grandmother, Loretta Avent, has long known the family and served under Bill Clinton’s presidential administration.

But she had known him for quite a while before his presidential bid, even before he was governor of Arkansas. They met during the Civil Rights protests at Georgetown University, where Clinton was bringing supplies to the protestors.

“That has to be the craziest white boy or the brightest,” Loretta said, joking about what she thought of him at the time.

Her granddaughter is just as close to the family. Brittany paints a flattering portrayal of Hillary Clinton in her book as an inspiration and said she thinks of her like an “aunt.”

They frequently exchanged letters growing up as “heart pals," and was invited to the White House once to celebrate her birthday.

She and her grandmother said they didn't want to discuss Brittany’s actual parents.

“They missed out on all those things (games, father daughter dances, take your child to work day), but my grandparents were always there,” Brittany said.

She and her brother, Bryant, moved into their grandparent’s home at 8 and 6 years old. She doesn’t remember the day well, but remembers thinking at the time that this was just a temporary situation.

“You're thinking that you're just spending the night at your grandparents ... but then it became more frequent, and eventually became an on-going situation," Brittany said.

Bryant said that he and his sister were always close even before the move-in with their grandparents and still are close to this day.

While growing up, other children at school would ask them why older people were dropping them off and picking them up at school. Loretta said that when other children asked that, they weren’t trying to be cruel; they were just confused and didn’t know any better.

Brittany got a bachelor’s degree in business at ASU with concentrations in theatre and dance.

While attending, she founded the Student Grandfamily Club. After graduating, she continued her work in the area funding a scholarship for students whose primary caretakers are grandparents, titled the Brittany Nicole and Bryant Nicholas Avent Grandfamily Scholarship.

She said both are the first of their kind in the country.

Rose, a 12-year-old whose name has been changed to protect the privacy of a minor, was one of many who talked to Brittany during the book signing.

Rose recently moved to Arizona and has been raised by her grandmother since she was four months old. 

Her grandmother said she’s cared for Rose because her mother was immature and left her alone on a boat as an infant. Rose has a younger sister who’s still in the custody of her birth mother, who she still misses.

She told Brittany that she has AD/HD and has trouble making friends at her new school, asking her for advice.

“Surround yourself with good friends and put together your own chosen family."

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