Did you know that 1 in 10 American children (75 million kids) are living in a household with at least one grandparent when it comes to raising grandchildren? 10 percent of all grandparents in the nation are raising their grandkids. Almost 3 million grandparents aren’t just helping. Instead, they are literally stepping in to be surrogate parents, doing the primary job of taking care of their grandchildren.
Today, there are numerous reasons why grandparents take over the responsibility of caring for their own grandchildren. If you are now raising your children’s children, you are not at all alone. In fact, you are now one of the millions of grandparents raising or helping raise grandchildren in the U.S. The situation has become common enough that there is even a name for it: Grandfamilies.
An important element of self-preservation is the building and maintenance of a strong support system. In addition to being demanding and exhausting, the task of caring for children can have an isolating effect on Grandma and Grandpa. Don’t allow yourself to be cut off from friends, neighbors or family members who understand what you’re up against. Nurture solid friendships. Admit that there are limits to what one person can do, and then seek some outside help.
One way to do this is to join a support group or speak to a professionally licensed counselor. In addition, depending on the situation and how you ended up caring for your grandchildren, it may be helpful for the children also. The situation may be difficult all around and a professional support network such as a therapist is the best route. A therapist will help you talk through the experience, help with the daily ups and downs, and be the best you can be for the children.
You should also make an intentional effort to get the regular relief you need in order to renew your energies. Never feel guilty about getting away for a break – an evening out with friends, dinner for the two of you at a nice restaurant, or a relaxing drive to a different environment. Refresh yourself with hobbies, outings and activities that you enjoy – a symphony, a game of golf, or an exercise class at the gym. Taking some time off for yourself is not a sign of weakness, and it will help you more than you may realize.
In addition to these strategies, we’d strongly recommend that you touch base with a professional counselor on a semi-regular or regular basis. Ideally this should be an individual who understands attachment issues. You didn’t tell us exactly how you ended up taking care of your grandkids. In most cases, it probably had something to do with events of a relatively tragic or traumatic nature such as death, divorce, mental illness, bi physical illness, incarceration, neglect or some type of abuse or addiction.
Children from troubled or unsettled backgroundsgenerally experience difficulty forming new attachments even though you may be there biological grandparents. They also are dealing with a sense of grief or loss. Since attachment and trust go hand in hand, you can expect this issue to have a significant impact on your attempts to forge a new family unit and build a safe and loving environment for the children in your home.
Whatever the reason, grandparents who return to parenting find it isn’t easy. Energy and income may be lower. Health may be more fragile. Adjusting to the schedules and the needs of children and teens can be overwhelming. How do people do it?
5 Ways to Succeed as a Grandfamily
Grandparents who manage the return to parenting are grandparents who don’t just let life happen to them. They actively work on making their Grandfamily work.
1. Embrace your new reality
Parenting again may not have been on the top of your list for how to spend your senior years. But life often has a way of taking unexpected turns. There is usually much joy to be found in raising your grandchildren once you’re able to accept and embrace the situation. Kids can keep us young. Sharing their interests and their current passions can keep us in the know about popular culture. Just when some seniors are wondering “Is this all there is”, Grandfamily adults find new meaning in raising their grandkids.
2. Acknowledge the losses.
Losses are often multiple. Whether providing full or part time care, you are giving up many of your plans and your flexibility to do the things you wanted to do. If you have assumed the parenting role because your adult child has significant problems or has abandoned the children, you are also confronting the loss of your idea of the child you thought you had or hoped they would become.
The children are also grieving. Regardless of their age and no matter how they were treated, children whose parents have dropped out of their lives often long for their parents to come back to take care of them.
Grandfamilies succeed when the adults are compassionate with themselves and the children. They allow space for talking about feelings and know how to gently guide conversations to the love children do have while acknowledging their reality. When kids act up, they see the hurt inside and help the children find more appropriate ways to express their grief.
3. Take care of yourself physically.
Even if you are as healthy as someone 10 years younger, you are still older than the average parent. Do what you can to take care of your health. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Get what exercise you can. You will feel better and you will be better able to keep up with the young ones.
4. Take care of your mental health too.
Grandparents raising kids often experience anxiety and depression due to the added stress. 40% of the grandmothers studied in one study had signs of psychological distress. To stay mentally healthy, reach out for information and support. Many social service agencies are now offering Grandparent Support Groups. If you find that you are feeling more anxious or down than you used to, do consider seeing a therapist.
5. Accept that times have changed.
Accepted and acceptable methods of disciplining kids also may have changed since the first time you were parenting. If in doubt, talk to a professional counselor or ask the young parents of your grandkids’ friends for more information and support.
For more information or to speak with someone at Foundations Counseling to help with a very complex situation such as raising your own grandchildren, please schedule an appointment with one of our licensed counselors today.