Parenthood, Take Two
~ By Lydia Prado, PhD, vice president of Child and Family Services, the Mental Health Center of Denver ~
Are you a grandparent raising your grandchild? For those who find themselves in this position, it is usually a surprise accompanied by many conflicting feelings. First and foremost: you are not alone. There are more than 2.5 million grandparents raising grandchildren in the U.S. today.
While most grandparents agree that grandchildren are one of their greatest sources of joy, the transition to being full time caregivers can be fraught with unforeseen challenges and unexpected emotions.
One of the biggest surprises many grandparents encounter is how different the parenting landscape is in 2015, compared to when they raised their own children. It’s a new day for you—and your grandchildren. What is the best way to raise your grandchild in a different social, educational and family environment? Much more is understood about child development, making parenting information abundant and overwhelming. You may be wondering (in good company): What is school choice? What is the best way to discipline children? What’s the deal with organic food? What are safe and unsafe activities and habits?
Here are a few things to consider to help you—and your grandchild— manage this transition.
- Acknowledge your feelings. It’s likely the circumstances that made you a caretaker are tragic or challenging—there is a wide range of normal emotions associated with grieving a loss or recovering from trauma. Feeling burdened, overwhelmed, resentful, confused, or angry are normal and appropriate feelings. Give yourself freedom to grieve what you had envisioned for your future. Take deep breaths in challenging moments and understand that this isn’t easy for either of you.
- Safeguard your well-being. Prioritize getting adequate sleep, regular exercise and nutritious foods. Do your best to maintain friendships and hobbies that were important to you before you became a caretaker.
- Connect with another grandparent raising a grandchild. It’s like a breath of fresh air to spend time with someone who understands the particular challenges and joys of your situation, without much explanation required. Together, you can share parenting resources and help with errands, chores, childcare coverage.
- Focus on creating a stable and loving relationship. No matter what brought your grandchild into your home, s/he will have strong feelings about changing where they live and with whom. As difficult as it is to find the energy to be patient and kind, it’s worth the effort because your grandchild will feel heard and safe.
- Make time to play and have fun. With age comes wisdom and an appreciation for how quickly time passes. Play with your grandchildren! Laugh together, bake cookies together, and go for walks together. Be present.
- Consider your legal obligations. Evaluate if you should seek custody. Revisit your will. Consider what should happen if you develop a sudden illness or pass away.
- Find a support group. It’s important to find a space where you feel safe to express your honest feelings about the impact raising your grandchild is having in your life. Contact your local senior center and/or community mental health center to see if they offer any groups or classes for grandparents raising grandchildren. Visit AARP’s website (www.aarp.org) to find local resources.
If you are a grandparent raising a grandchild, you probably don’t hear it often enough, but there are people in your community who see and appreciate the important job you’re doing. We commend and thank you for stepping forward to provide a loving and safe home for your family. And while you work to take care of your grandchildren, remember to take care of yourself too.