You didn't expect to be parenting again..and the world seems so different than when your own children were small.
More and more grandparents from all social, economic and ethnic groups are caring for their grandchildren or great-grandchildren, and relatives are caring for their nieces and nephews, or other relatives. Sometimes they are unprepared to take on these new responsibilities. Sometimes they are resentful or angry. And sometimes they just need what any caregiver of children needs - information and support.
Here are some common concerns you may have:
Physical stress. The energy level of children can be challenging for anyone, but if grandparents have physical illness of their own, it makes raising a child even more demanding. Lifting, changing, bathing and feeding infants and toddlers is tiring. Older children need supervision, help with homework, additional food, cleaning and laundry, and a host of other activities.
Financial stress. Many grandparents are on a fixed income, and do not receive any help from the children's parents. Insurance, food, clothes and educational expenses can cause serious financial burdens for grandparents.
Legal issues. Grandparents must decide whether to seek legal custody, guardianship or adoption of the child for whom they are caring. This can cause problems within the family when courts are involved.
Emotional stress. Children bring with them strong emotions - loving your grandchild does not mean you don't feel angry or resentful at times. You may worry about your grandchild's behavior and development, or you may be angry or hurt by your own child's actions.
Parenting concerns. It is easy for grandparents to become overwhelmed with discipline and other parenting issues. Society has changed since they were parents and, though many behavior problems are common regardless of generation, societal changes can cause confusion or difficulty.
Time constraints. As a grandparent raising grandchildren, you can overextend yourself with too many activities. You are unselfishly giving your love and energy and personal resources to once again raise children. This takes enormous commitments of your time - and you also need time for yourself.
Here are some tips for doing your best as grandparents:
Understand your grandchild's needs. Not only are you raising a child you never planned for, you may also be raising a child with multiple problems. The children may not have had a good start in life, and may be anxious and insecure. They may have trouble trusting anyone and need constant reassurance and nurturing. Consistency, nurturing and acceptance will go a long way in helping your grandchildren feel secure and loved.
Learn about child development and discipline techniques. Attending a parenting class, parenting or family support program or other information session can give you new ideas about how to communicate with your child. You can practice skills like praising your grandchildren, setting and enforcing rules, and stating your expectations with other parents and grandparents in classes and groups.
Consult an attorney for advice on custody, guardianship and other legal concerns. These are among the most sensitive and complicated issues facing grandparents. Look for a lawyer who has experience with child welfare law and custody issues. Choose one that you feel comfortable with and who listens to your concerns. Recommendations from friends, listing from the local bar association (a lawyers' group) and courts are a good place to start; many communities also have legal clinics that provide low or no cost help to grandparents in custody cases.
Confront financial issues with information. Keep good records of your and your grandchild's assets and liabilities. Important documents should be kept in a safe location, either a safe deposit box or with a friend or attorney. Public assistance programs are available everywhere, and can help you with the added burdens of caring for children. Community agencies for older persons can help with referrals to programs.
Ask for help! Caring for your grandchildren can be overwhelming and frustrating. Asking for help from family members, neighbors, or community agencies is a sign of strength. You do not have to do everything alone, but often others do not know how to help unless you ask them.
Take care of yourself. You need and deserve respite from your child care responsibilities; arrange child care you can trust, perhaps you can "trade kids" with another grandparent. Time spent away from your children can revitalize you and help you feel less stressed. Taking care of your personal business helps you feel in control of your life and decreases daily pressures. Learning to relax and handle stress is an important way to help yourself so you can help your grandchild.
Don't speak negatively about the child's parents. Children love their parents, even when their parents make mistakes. Find some good in the parents and let the child know it is all right to love both you and their parent.
Your gift to your grandchild is yourself
When you raise your children's children, you give unselfishly - love, time, talents and personal resources. You keep your family intact and become a stabilizing force for children whose lives are often full of uncertainty. Be proud of your accomplishments!
Grandparenting is complex, often difficult and charged with emotions. It calls for wisdom, strength and flexibility. Every generation is different than the one before, and often these differences create challenges to communication and understanding. Love and patience go a long way in meeting these challenges. Often, adults remember their grandparent as one of the most influential people in their lives. Grandparents shield the child from harm, give the child hope and encouragement, and hold them close to their heart. Grandparents bridge the future with the past.
For help or information about grandparents, contact these organizations:
AARP Grandparent Information Center (202) 434-2296
Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance 1-800-448-4906