Grandparents are an important resource for both parents and children. They routinely provide childcare, financial assistance and emotional support. Occasionally, they are called upon to provide much more, including temporary or full-time care and responsibility for their grandchildren with numbers continuing to climb as the opioid crisis and other factors disrupt families.
An increasing number of children in the United States live in households headed by a grandparent. This trend is due to:
- increasing numbers of single parent families
- the high rate of divorce
- teenage pregnancies
- incarcerations of parents
- substance abuse by parents
- illness, disability or death of parents
- parental abuse or neglect
New research being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2018 National Conference & Exhibition shows that caregivers who step up to raise their grandchildren are overcoming unique challenges to manage just as well as biological and adoptive parent caregivers.
In many of these homes, neither of the child’s biological parents is present. In most cases, children taken care of by grandparents move in with them as infants or preschoolers and remain with them for five years or more. These grandparents are a diverse group, ranging in age from thirties to seventies. Many grandparents are ready to simplify their lives and slow down. Giving that up and taking over the responsibilities of being a primary caregiver again can stir up many feelings, including grief, anger, loss, resentment and possibly guilt. The transition can be very stressful, and the emotional and financial burdens can be significant.
5 Tips to Help Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
- Educate yourself about raising grandchildren – For grandparents raising grandchildren after being out of the “parenting game” for a long while, it is important to learn what resources and supports your local community can offer you. The landscape of what is offered now likely looks very different from when you were raising your kids. Work with your grandchildren’s caseworker or school counselor to learn as much as you can about the hurdles that the kids might be facing because they cannot live with Mom or Dad.
- Find a support group – You likely were not planning to be raising your grandchildren at this stage of life. Working through your new reality means that you need a safe person or support group with whom to process those feelings. In-person and online support groups are both valuable tools in building your village. They serve different purposes but the value of gathering with others is that you are with folks who “get it.” It staves off isolation that comes from being back in the child-rearing season of life when other friends have moved on.
- Take care of yourself while raising grandchildren – Engaging in self-care is crucial to maintaining a healthy environment for your grandkids to heal and thrive. Find what feeds your spirit, separate from your parenting, and do it. Make sure you keep yourself at the top of the list, prioritizing your health to be sure that you can be at your best for these precious grandkids who need you.
- Keep communication open and honest – This tip might be harder to implement, especially if your grandkids’ birth parent(s) is your own child. However, it is as vital to your mental and emotional health as it is to your grandchildren’s health. When interacting with your grandchildren’s parent(s), be open, honest and clear.
- Have fun raising your grandkids – One of the most important things to remember is that these kids need the joy and simplicity of childhood restored. Find the things that make you laugh together. Take time to relax and unwind together. Take up hobbies or activities that will help you forge attachments. There will be tremendous healing for you all in being able to revel in child-like joy and wonder again
The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren support group is a great resource in the community for both the grandparents and grandchildren. Harnett County residents age 55 or older raising a grandchild or great grandchild from birth to 18 years of age, may receive more information on the support group meeting dates and times by calling Latorius Adams at 910-814-6075 or log onto the Harnett County Division on Aging website at www.harnett.org/aging.