You probably thought your child-raising years were over. As much as you loved being a parent and may even have struggled to let the last one go, you were happy that you were now finished raising kids.
But guess what? You were wrong.
Little people are once again living in your home. And it feels like someone rewound the clock without checking with you first. Once again, you’re making macaroni and cheese, chauffeuring rides to school and find yourself at soccer practice or overseeing homework.
But for those raising their grandchildren, there’s much more.
It’s a sad situation because it likely means something has stopped your own child from being able to parent. But no matter how exhausted or disappointed you may be, these are your grandchildren. And that is also your child that you’re trying to help.
You aren’t alone. Statistics show an estimated 3 million grandparents are doing the exact same thing. Which is good news because studies show this arrangement can be the best for children to know they are loved, cared for and safe.
But it’s not easy.
The following suggestions can help get you started as you step back into this new role.
This new circumstance has upended their lives and your own. Your head may be swimming trying to figure out what needs to be done, but take a moment to prioritize. More than anything, these children need love and a stable home life. So start there.
We all do better with a routine. Adjust your expectations to the child’s age and ability. Talk with them upfront about when bedtime is, how much electronic time will be allowed and what tasks they are expected to help with.
Normally it wouldn’t be your job, but now they’re living in your home and you are the one responsible. Don’t let it become a free for all. Set the ground rules, let them know the consequences if they’re broken and find ways to help them do better.
Is this a temporary situation? If it looks like it might become long-term or permanent, you might want to talk to a family attorney. Most grandparents take care of their grandchildren without a formal arrangement but you may need help with health insurance or to make medical decisions for them.
Tailor discussions to the child’s age and understanding, but as much as possible be honest about why they’re living in your home. You don’t need to go into details, but don’t make up a story. Kids have a knack for uncovering the truth and being lied to only makes them feel more insecure.
If at all possible and depending on your situation, try to keep in touch with both the parents. It may be painful but you are raising their children. However, when it comes to visits, your first priority is always to make sure the kids are safe.
No matter how frustrated or angry you may become, don’t share this with the kids. They are not the cause of this situation and complaining to them will only make them feel responsible. This is an adult problem and there’s nothing they can do to change things.
There are grandparents raising grandchildren support groups. Reach out to others who are in a similar situation. It can make all the difference if you have a place to go, either in person or online, to talk with others facing the same challenges.
You may be all that the children have now so you must take care of them and yourself. Make it a priority to eat right and exercise, even if it’s only going outside to take a walk. And don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep to make the next day easier to face.
As unfair as this situation is to both the children and yourself, if at all possible, look for times you can still be just their grandparent. You’ll truly be a hero if you can find ways to play or have fun with them the way you used to.
For the children’s sake you wish this wouldn’t have happened, but there is often a bright side even when we’re stumbling in the dark. Many grandparents say they actually feel more energetic and vibrant having younger kids in the house again. And they often feel that they’re doing a much better job of parenting the second time around.
Another surprise for some grandparents is the joy they feel being involved with their grandchildren daily. They don’t stress out as much as they might have done with their own kids because they have a different perspective of what’s really important.
Even though you can try to be positive, it’s usually a sad situation if your own child is unable to parent. And there is also a hefty amount of guilt that can go along with that. But you aren’t alone. There are some great resources for grandparents raising grandchildren, including HelpGuide.org, AARP’s GrandFamilies Guide and Daily Strength.
Kids also have a habit of growing up quickly, even though it won’t always seem that way. Before you know it, they will be moving on, so try to remind yourself of the difference you are making in helping them do that.
A grandparent’s role has always been important in a child’s life. For those raising kids, studies show that it doesn’t matter as much whether it’s a parent or grandparent in charge, as long as they know they’re being taken care of and loved.
Remember that you’re giving your grandchildren the best chance they have to grow up and go out in the world. Because they’ll know that no matter what happens, there is someone in their corner.
And that’s something we all need – no matter how old we are.
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