Grandparents raising grandchildren
Grandparents raising grandchildren is rewarding and challenging.
The U.S. Census Bureau says that in the United States there are nearly one million grandchildren being raised by their grandparents, with neither parent present, and the number continues to grow. Problems such as parental drug and alcohol abuse, death, incarceration or other issues are resulting in grandparents stepping in to care for their grandchildren on a full-time basis. There are certainly many positive aspects of grandparents raising their grandchildren, such as keeping the family together by creating a secure and stable home for the children. However, the situation also comes with many challenges including legal, financial, physical, social and emotional. It’s important that grandparents in this role receive the support and help they need to ensure optimal outcomes not only for the children in their care, but for themselves as well.
I had the opportunity to work with a group of grandparents in a parenting role earlier this month in Detroit. Issues of stress reduction, parenting and anger management were all topics. What I found through working with the group was that while grandparents feel a tremendous amount of love and responsibility for their grandchildren, they also feel overwhelmed and anxious about the role of being a full-time caregiver, and what the future holds for them and their grandchildren. They face unique stressors because of age, fixed incomes, caring for their own needs and getting support for children who are often coming from a situation where they were abused or neglected.
In the context of reducing stress and improving parenting competencies, here are some of the things we discussed and the ways in which Michigan State University Extension offered support and information:
- It’s important to take care of your own needs, both physical and emotional. Do not feel guilty about time away from caring for your grandchildren when you are attending to your own health and wellbeing. If you are not healthy, you will not be able to care for your grandchildren.
- Do not be afraid to seek support from the school, pediatricians, mental health agencies, community based agencies and other sources of support in your community. Schools can help assess and care for a child with developmental, social, emotional and learning difficulties. Mental health professionals and pediatricians can help determine if your grandchild has social, emotional or mental health issues that need to be addressed outside of the home or school setting. Studies show that grandparents who cope well with the added stress of raising their grandchildren are those who are connected to community support and resources, and do not feel alone.
- Seek out or start a support group for grandparents who are going through the same things. The support and shared experiences of others in a similar situation can be very powerful.
- Be compassionate with yourself and know that you are doing the best you can for yourself and the grandchildren in your care. It’s okay and natural to experience a range of emotions – both positive and negative. It’s okay to feel sad, angry, resentful, scared and overwhelmed, and to acknowledge that you are feeling this way. If any of these feelings or emotions begins to interfere with your functioning, health or mental health, seek help right away.
- If you struggle with unanswered questions around legal matters such as custody or who will care for your grandchild if something were to happen to you, seek the advice of a legal professional. Gaining information and knowledge can help you feel empowered and reduce stress.
Grandparents raising grandchildren can be rewarding, as well as challenging. The key is for grandparents in this role to acknowledge their feelings, reduce their stress and seek the help of others when needed. For more information on this and other similar topics, please visit www.msue.msu.edu.