Leah Owens | ED. S, MA, LPC, NCC, REGISTERED PLAY THERAPIST
As a grandparent, I joke that God gives us grandkids as a do-over for all the mistakes we made as a parent. What we now lack in energy, we make up for in wisdom. For most of us, grandparenting means play dates, occasional babysitting, or maybe vacations together. However, for many, it means giving up the traditional role of grandparent and having the day-to-day responsibilities of raising their grandchildren.
You most likely know someone who is raising grandchildren. If you find yourself in this role, you are not alone. According to AARP, there are over 2.5 million grandparents raising grandchildren in the United States. Grandfamilies.org states that in Alabama alone, 65,033 grandparents are raising and are responsible for 113,107 children. This epidemic is no respecter of race, religion, or socio-economic level.
There are various reasons for the growth of what is now called “grandfamilies.” It is safe to say most often it is due to tragedy and/or trauma. For anyone, especially a child, adjusting to a new home is difficult in the best of circumstances. Add to this the wounds of parental illness, addiction, neglect, trauma, abuse, divorce, incarceration, abandonment, or death, and it brings a whole set of other problems to deal with. If you are raising a grandchild or grandchildren, it is likely they have encountered one or more of these wounds.
Just like you, the children will have mixed, confusing, and overwhelming feelings, but they don’t have the tools to deal with them. Your grandchild’s feelings may come out as aggressive or inappropriate behavior, or they may withdraw and push you away. This is not uncommon; in fact, it is likely. This is no one’s fault; it is just what happens.
In this case, seeking help from a professional counselor who is trained in doing attachment work and working with children from hard places will be beneficial. Choose someone who can give you the tools and knowledge needed to understand your grandchildren’s needs and experiences. It is important for grandparents to learn how to create a safe, nurturing, and structured home where the child can connect, grow, and—most importantly—feel loved.
In addition to the day-to-day struggles, grandparents raising grandchildren are faced with other challenges as well. Many will experience grief of what they thought their golden years might look like, grief for the situation and their child, financial strain, physical health problems, mental stress, and legal challenges. The following websites offer a plethora of resources, support, and information:
Acknowledge and accept your feelings and the situation. You are likely to have a range of emotions, both positive and negative. This is normal and doesn’t mean that you don’t love your grandchildren.
Self-care: This is easier said than done, but it is important to take care of yourself and get the support you need so that you can be the caregiver your grandchildren need. You can’t give what you don’t have. Make time for at least 15 minutes a day to relax or do something you enjoy.
Find Support: A friend, church group, professional counselor, online support group, or local support group is essential. Pathways Professional Counseling has a trained attachment team to help families and walk through this journey with you.