The challenges of grandparents raising grandchildren
As grandparents, we usually have the benefit of interacting with our grandkids on a level that is once removed from the day-to-day responsibilities of parents. For many of us, grandparenting means a weekend together every now and then, an afternoon play date, an evening babysitting, a summer vacation, or chats on the phone and email exchanges here and there. But when life circumstances change—through divorce, the death of parents, or changes to a parent’s work or school-related responsibilities, for example—it often falls to grandparents to assume full- or part-time responsibility for their grandchildren.
Also known as “kinship care,” a growing number of grandparents are now taking on the parenting role for their grandchildren, thus foregoing the traditional grandparent/grandchild relationship. This often means giving up your leisure time, the option of traveling, and many other aspects of your independence. Instead, you once again take on responsibility for the day-to-day maintenance of a home, schedules, meals, homework, and play dates. And if it was tragic circumstances that required you to step into the role of a parent, you’ll face many other stress factors, such as coping with your own and your grandchildren’s grief.
But raising your grandchildren, while challenging, can also be incredibly rewarding. Yes, you may have to deal with colicky babies or moody teenagers, but you’ll also experience a much greater connection to your grandchild’s world, including their school and leisure activities. You may also find yourself rolling back the years, rejuvenated by the constant companionship of much younger people. And you can derive immense satisfaction from providing your grandchildren with a safe, nurturing, and structured home environment in which to grow and feel loved.
Acknowledge your feelings
The prospect of raising grandchildren is bound to trigger a range of emotions. Positive emotions, like the love you feel for your grandchildren, the joy in seeing them learn and grow, and relief at giving them a stable environment, are easy to acknowledge. It’s more difficult to admit to feelings such as resentment, guilt, or fear.
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 ambivalence about childrearing at a time when you expected your responsibilities to be dwindling. These feelings don’t mean that you don’t love your grandchildren.
Take care of yourself
You probably weren’t expecting to be raising kids again at this stage in your life. At times, the physical, emotional, and financial demands may feel overwhelming. That’s why it’s vitally important that you take care of yourself and get the support you need.
When you’re preoccupied with the daily demands of raising grandkids, it’s easy to let your own needs fall by the wayside. But taking care of yourself is a necessity, not a luxury. You can’t be a good caretaker when you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, and emotionally depleted. In order to keep up with your grandkids, you need to be calm, centered, and focused. Looking after your own mental and physical health is how you get there.
Realize your grandkids will have mixed feelings too
Moving to a new home is never easy, even in the best of circumstances. When children are dealing with the loss of regular contact with their parent or parents, the move is even harder. It will take some time for your grandchildren to adjust, and in the meantime, they may act especially contrary and difficult. And if the children have suffered from emotional neglect, trauma, or abuse, those wounds will not disappear just because they are now in a safe place. They will need time to heal.