In the year 2000, the US census found that over 2.4 million grandparents have responsibility for their grandchildren, 4.5 million children are living in grandparent headed homes, and most grandparents raising grandchildren are between 55 and 64. This means that instead of retirement, these grandparents are now taking on diapers, daycare, teacher conferences, and round 2 of raising children.
According to the AARP, the reasons grandparents are raising their grandchildren include the following:
• Drugs and alcohol problems in the home
• Mental illness in the home
• Parent (s) incarcerated
• Death of a parent
• Poverty in the home
• Divorce of parents
• Child abuse or neglect in the home
• Teen pregnancy
• Parents living with HIV/AIDS
• Domestic violence in the home
• Military deployment of parent (s)
Grandparents need to be aware of important things they can do to provide the best care for their grandchildren, while also preserving their own health and well-being. Here are several tips:
• Acknowledge your feelings- raising grandchildren can trigger a variety of emotions. You may feel the love and dedication and relief of providing them with a stable home, but there also could be resentment, guilt, or fear. It is natural to feel both positive and negative feelings and necessary to identify and work though them. Other common feelings may be stress and worry (being a full time parent once again can be overwhelming and you may worry what will happen if something happens to you), anger or resentment (towards the child’s parent for leaving you with this responsibility or resentful of other friends who are enjoying their retirement), guilt (guilty for your child’s failures as a parent or mistakes you made when you parented the first time), and grief (loss of independence, your child and possible difficulties that have led to this situation)
• Take Care of yourself- taking care of yourself is a necessity and not a luxury. If you dot take care of yourself you cannot care for your grandchild. Carve out time for rest and relaxation to avoid burnout and depression. Ask for help when you need it, even from your grandchildren. Seek out support through friends or support groups. Reach out to the community for childcare help. There are often story time hours at the library or services through churches or other religious organizations.
• Realize your grandchildren have feelings too – children may resent being separated from their parents and wish to return to them. The feelings often come out in behavior. Because of the circumstances of the situation, children always need your comfort and support. They are probably feeling discomfort, mistrust, and anger.
• Adjusting/creating a stable environment- routines and schedules help a child feel safe. Create rituals that you and your grandchildren can share. In order to make the child feel comfortable, allow them to have input into their new home, such as decorating their room. Feeling as though they have some control will make the adjustment easier. They should also have a private space such as a room or a tree house. Clear, age- appropriate rules and boundaries should be set and consistently enforced. Make sure you are a consistent reassuring presence for your grandchildren in the morning, after school, and before bed.
• Encourage open and honest communication – Frequent communication can help children cope with their new situation. It may be helpful to plan regular times to sit and talk. Encourage children to talk about and identify their emotions. It’s also helpful to allow young children to communicate through play or art. If you don’t know the answer its ok to tell the child, “I don’t know.” You want to avoid telling the child too many details about the situation but also too little or nothing at all. Both can be confusing for the child. Be careful never to twist the facts or lie, this avoids anger in the future.
Caring for grandchildren can also be financially challenging. There are many benefits available including TANF, SSI, WIC, Medicaid, and guardianship subsidies. These public services can help to ease the stress of financially managing the needs of grandchildren.
If you are raising grandchildren, consider signing up for our group. It is ok to seek out help for both you and your grandchild to help with the adjustment. Our group will focus on
• Identifying challenges related to parenting grandchildren
• Developing positive coping strategies
• Strengthening self esteem
• Releasing negative feelings
• Decreasing sense of isolation through supportive environment
• Talking about and learning to manage caregiver stress
By Rebecca Roebke, LCSW