“Ava calls me Gigi. I wasn’t ready to embrace ‘grandma’ when she was born,’ ” says Karen Moore Greene. No one would fault her; Karen was just 38 when her 17-year-old daughter Brittany had baby Ava under tumultuous circumstances. The child’s father had vanished, and Brittany and Ava moved from one unsuitable setting to the next. Fearing the worst, Karen and her husband, Walter, knew they had to intervene, and after many hurdles, both legal and emotional, they were able to secure custody of Ava when she was 3 years old. The couple are raising Ava, now 9, along with their own 8-year-old son, Monte. “I’ve learned that family comes first, no matter the sacrifice,” says Karen.
Karen’s relationship with Brittany was strained prior to Ava’s birth. Brittany had run away from home when she was 15 years old and was missing for three months. Karen and Walter hired a private investigator to track her down. Brittany was defiant, and Karen warned her that if she got pregnant, she would be on her own. When that happened, Karen’s sister offered to take in Brittany because she felt she might be able to get through to her niece, but that arrangement was unsuccessful. “Brittany and I had a contentious relationship for much of her teenage years leading into her early 20s. She was a hot mess, but you wouldn’t know that today,” says Karen. “She recently got her own apartment and we’ve done a test run with Ava, allowing her to sleep over. She asked if I was receptive to her regaining custody. I said I was, however, she would have to prove to the courts that she was fully capable of caring for Ava. When that day comes, we will be there to help out.”
The family’s challenges are many, starting with the relationship between the kids. “Ava is aware that Monte is her uncle, but they still behave like siblings and squabble all the time,” says Karen. “Even though they’re at odds on most days, they have each other’s back when they’re in public, especially around other children.”
Ava clearly needs extra support. “Our biggest concerns are Ava’s confidence and sense of self. She’s only in the fourth grade, but a few kids in her school already make fun of her for living with her grandparents,” says Walter. Karen acknowledges that Ava has abandonment issues, but she cites Walter as an uplifting figure. “Ava adores Walter. Even though he’s her step-grandfather, he is the only father she knows. Ava is much closer to Walter than she is to me because she blames me for taking her away from her mother. I’m okay with being the evil grandmother, as long as she’s getting love and all her other needs are being met. As she matures, I hope she’ll realize that my intention was to protect her and to remove her from the situation, not from her mother. In the meantime, she clings to Walter and he’s been a wonderful role model and influence.”
Through therapy, for both Ava and the family, Karen, Walter, Brittany, Ava and Monte are pulling through. “I’m proud of the obstacles we continue to overcome and the accomplishments we’ve made, considering the challenges,” says Karen. Walter adds that he feels good about the future. “We want to put our kids in a position to be happy and successful, and I think we are headed in the right direction.”
Describe your family in three words.
Karen: “Nontraditional, progressive, resilient.”
Walter: “United, respectful, humble.”
How involved is Brittany in Ava’s life? How do you co-parent with her?
Karen: “Brittany is quite involved in Ava’s life. She will often pick Ava and Monte up from school and babysit both children whenever we need her. She’ll take Ava to school sometimes as well. She sees Ava at least two to three times a week, if not more. She spends a good deal of time with her on the weekends, helping her with homework, taking her to swimming lessons, tutoring sessions, the park, movies, to eat, to the hair salon, etc., and will even spend the night on occasion. She’ll take Ava shopping for clothes, school supplies and toys. She also contributes money whenever she can.”
Which qualities do you love in Monte and in Ava?
Karen: “I love that Ava is kind, generous and imaginative. I love that Monte is gifted, gregarious and personable.”
Walter: “Our children are very warm and friendly especially around younger children. When speaking with adults, they are courteous, well-behaved and respectful.”
What’s the last thing that Monte and Ava did that made you laugh?
Karen: “I sneezed loudly in the middle of a spirited conversation and Ava said, ‘You just ruined a beautiful moment Gigi!’"
"Monte asked me with a serious expression if I thought he would win an Oscar for the one line he delivers in an upcoming movie. I laughed hysterically on the inside and told him anything is possible.”
Walter: “Ava is a born performer who excels as a dancer and is very good at impersonations … she does a great impersonation of Gigi. Monte is very quick-witted and is always ready with a funny retort.”
What surprises you most about parenting?
Karen: “How different their personalities and interests are and that they have more of a social life than we do!”
Walter: “The difference between boys and girls. Ava is basically my second daughter and Monte is my only son. I parent them entirely differently.”
What’s your spin on finding work-life balance?
Karen: “I have a great deal of responsibility at work, and even greater responsibility at home. It’s exhausting and can be challenging at times, but I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a job that I enjoy and a beautiful family that I love and can run home to.”
Image Caption: Clockwise: Walter Greene, 45, director of sales, marketing and business development; Karen Moore Greene, 47, senior contract and copyright administrator; daughter Brittany, 27; granddaughter Ava, 9; and son Monte, 8. New York City