Grandparents raising their grandchildren
May 1, 2023 | View PDF
Q: My daughter has recently gotten divorced and previous occasional visits with grandchildren has now turned into full-time care, due to an absent father and a daughter who cannot afford to care for them on her own. How do I handle the ambivalence towards this situation?
A: These days with circumstances of divorce, incarceration of a parent, death of the children’s parents, or when a family situation changes, it becomes a new beginning for older adults when they start caring for their grandkids.
Statistically, more grandparents are caregivers for their grandchildren than generations before them. Many, like you, are grappling with how to care for and discipline their grandchildren. The love you have for your grandkids is likely a positive one, but unexpected caregiving when you have already raised children can bring on feelings of resentment, fear, anger or guilt. You may also find yourself grieving the retirement years you thought you were going to have, and what you had planned on doing during that time.
Acceptance and communication
First, acknowledge your feelings and accept them. Those emotions do not mean you love your grandchildren any less, just know that what you are experiencing is normal. And there are measures that take into account everyone’s well-being when building a new and different relationship with your grandkid(s).
Delicate communication that earns your grandchild’s trust is an initial step. An infant or young child may not always be able to express their emotions, therefore how you come across to them matters. Encourage your grandchild to communicate their feelings without passing judgment or ignoring what they have to say. Help your grandchild identify their emotions. You could ask, “You seem sad. Is something bothering you?” Young children may also express their emotions through play, so be observant to see if they are acting out, or seem angry.
Consider all forms of communication if your grandchild doesn’t have frequent contact with one, both or either parent any longer. Is it possible to conduct a video chat, send a text, write an email or a letter? Encourage grandchildren to draw, paint, create music or write down their thoughts and feelings about the loss.
Be sensitive to your grandchild’s feelings, and their disappointment of lost contact. Be supportive and comforting by letting them know they are in a safe place. Establishing routines and setting age-appropriate guidelines, rules or boundaries can also help children adjust and adapt to new surroundings or schedules. Time with you may need some flexibility at first; your role has changed from an occasional visitor to adopting a “kinship” role. You are now managing their appointments, homework, discipline, activities and meal prep.
Take care of yourself, too
Carve out time for yourself, even if only 5 or 10 minutes here and there, or an hour every other week. You need to be well-rested, sharp and focused when taking care of infants, toddlers, teens or young adults. Take an interest in their music, sports, art, theatre, hobbies, or other fascinations. Get to know the kids personally with “new found wonder”.
Finally, know your rights, whether a temporary legal guardian, long-term custodian, or full-time caregiver. Find advocacy and support groups, or
if circumstances warrant, seek advice of legal counsel. Do not be afraid to ask professionals for help. Especially if there has been a divorce (or an estrangement, death of parents, or suspected neglect or abuse of grandchildren), clarify your legal rights and ensure access to your grandchildren. Most importantly, however, avoid putting the grandkids in the middle of any heated discussions or legal battles.
Wishing you the best in this new chapter. Realize everyone will have mixed emotions during the time of transition. Take it slow, create an environment of stability, ask for advice when you need it, and take care of your own health.
VOA Alaska Kinship Care Services, https://voaak.org/services/family/kinship/
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, University of Wisconsin-Extension:
National legal resource in support of grandfamilies within and outside the child welfare system: http://www.grandfamilies.org.
Karen Casanovas, PCC, CPCC, CLIPP is a health, wellness and simplified living coach practicing in Anchorage. If you have questions write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.