Often grandparenting means a weekend with grandchildren every now and then, an evening babysitting, a summer vacation, or chats on the phone and Facetime here and there. But when life circumstances change, grandparents often assume full- or part-time responsibility for their grandchildren.
Many grandparents are now taking on the parenting role for their grandchildren, changing the traditional grandparent/grandchild relationship. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 2.5 million children were living with grandparents who were responsible for their care in 2005. In 2015, that number rose to 2.9 million (Wiltz, 2016).
There are many different reasons grandparents assume the primary parenting role, including family crises like disability of child or parent, death, divorce, deportation, incarceration, or military deployment. Others may raise their grandchildren due to state removal from parental care because of parental substance abuse, abuse, and neglect, unemployment, mental or physical illnesses, or child abandonment (Wiltz, 2016).
Grandparents may experience immense satisfaction from providing their grandchildren with a safe, nurturing, and structured home environment to grow and feel loved. Raising grandchildren can be incredibly rewarding but also challenging. Grandparents may struggle financially, emotionally, and physically while taking on the parenting role once again (Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005). Studies show that grandparents who cope well with the added stress of raising grandchildren are those who seek out support in-person and online (Dolbin-MacNab & Stucki, n.d.).
In terms of support for grandparents raising grandchildren, here are some tips to get started:
Recognize your feelings
It’s important to acknowledge and accept what you’re feeling, both positive and negative. Don’t beat yourself up over your doubts and misgivings. It’s only natural to feel some contradiction about childrearing when you expected your responsibilities to be dwindling. These feelings don’t mean that you don’t love your grandchildren. You may feel stress, worry, anger, resentment, guilt, and even grief. It’s essential to recognize your feelings and reach out to friends, family, or professional help if needed (Mendoza, Fruhauf, & MacPhee, 2020).
Take care of yourself
A healthy you means healthy grandchildren. If you don’t take care of your health, you won’t be able to take care of your grandchildren, either. Make it a priority to eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly
and get adequate sleep. Don’t let doctor’s appointments or medication refills slide. Burnout is also very possible, so it is vital to carve out time for hobbies and relaxation to avoid it. Look for support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren. Support groups or even phone support can be beneficial in this journey, and it’s a good start for making friends in similar situations. Hearing from people who have been there can help both uplifts your spirits and give you concrete suggestions for your situation (Mendoza, Fruhauf, & MacPhee, 2020).
Recognize that grandchildren will have mixed feelings
When children deal with the loss of regular contact with their parents, the move between homes is challenging. It will take some time for your grandchildren to adjust, and in the meantime, they may act especially contrary and difficult. If children have suffered from emotional neglect, trauma, or abuse, children will especially need time to heal. Grandchildren may feel anger, resentment, confusion, grief, and sadness due to loss or separation from a parent. These feelings may come out in many ways, including inappropriate or aggressive behavior. Do not be afraid to reach out to professional help for children, whether therapy or talking to a school social worker (Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005).
Focus on building a safe home
It may take some time for your grandchildren to adjust to a new home but making the environment stable and the transition safe is essential. Ask the children for their input and encourage them to decorate their room the way they like. Make sure children have a private space they can call their own and use as their “safe space.” While children should have some control, it is still important to remember you are now their guardian. Set clear & appropriate rules for the household to eliminate the unknown. Routines and schedules may also help children (Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005).
Communicate openly and honestly.
Coping with new situations is scary but communicating openly and honestly with the people involved can help. Listen to your grandchildren about their questions, concerns, and feelings. Please encourage them to talk about their feelings, good and bad. However, be aware of the different developmental stages of the children. Some grandchildren may need help identifying their emotions or verbalizing them in general (Hayslip & Kaminski, 2005).
University of Illinois Extension also has a website with online newsletters called Parenting Again that cover many topics designed to help grandparents raising grandchildren.
Author: Kayli Worthey, human services programming administration graduate student, Child and Family Life Center graduate assistant, Eastern Illinois University