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Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

You’ve raised your kids; you’re settled into a peaceful retirement routine.  Then, one day your telephone rings.  The caller bears news that something has happened, and you will now be raising your grandchildren.  In the blink of an eye, your world has just turned upside down.  Here are some things you can expect.

Whether your grandchildren’s parents have died, become incarcerated, or have otherwise been removed from their parenting roles, your grandchildren will deal with grief and difficulties associated with the major changes occurring in their lives.  This is a scary time for your grandchildren.  They are moving to a new home (yours), they may be changing schools and leaving friends behind, they will be adjusting to a new support system (i.e., it no longer centers on their parents), the rules under which they have been raised will change (your parenting style will not be exactly identical to the style to which your grandchildren are accustomed), and they will feel adrift.  If they were forcibly removed from their parents’ home (i.e., because of their parents were arrested or deemed by the government to be unfit as parents), your grandchildren may feel defensive of their parents and resentful regarding the removal and placement in your home.  If your grandchildren’s parents have been in an automobile accident and are in the hospital where they will likely remain for a very long time (i.e., if they are in a chronic vegetative state), you and your grandchildren will have frequent hospital visits and the emotions that come with this circumstance.  No matter why your grandchildren are coming to live with you, they will experience emotional trauma associate with it.

Similarly, you will deal with your own grief and difficulties associated with the major changes occurring in your life.  Your peaceful retirement is now gone as your home is now filled with grandchildren . . . who are going to be trying to cope with some very difficult transitions.  Your well planned retirement budget is out the window and will need to be recalculated to figure in the cost of raising children again.  The vacations you have planned may or may not be carried out as you raise your grandchildren:  if your vacations are grandchildren-friendly, the vacations will simply need to be scheduled for school breaks (i.e., during summer or Christmas break) . . . and, even if your vacations are grandchildren-friendly, the vacations will likely need to be adjusted to accommodate for the presence of your grandchildren.  For example, you may need to alter your plans about the restaurants at which you plan to dine, opting out of fine dining in favor of family style dining.  Your socialization will even be affected.  If you have had card club every Tuesday evening, that may need to change so that you can get your grandchildren to bed by 8:00 p.m. and keep the house quiet enough to keep them fast asleep in their beds until they get up to go to school the next morning.  A group of chatting, card-playing friends will create too much noise and activity for your grandchildren to go to and stay asleep.  If your budget does not accommodate raising your grandchildren, if your social circle goes on without you, or if you deal with other such challenges, your stress level throughout this transition will increase significantly.  And all of this is on top of the emotions that you will experience due to whatever event caused your grandchildren to come live with you (i.e., grief upon the death of your grandchildren’s parents, anger for your grandchildren’s parents’ use of illegal drugs and their subsequent arrest and prosecution, worry for your grandchildren’s parents who lie in the hospital in a persistent vegetative state, etc.).

If your grandchildren’s parents are alive and able to interact with your grandchildren, other complications can arise as well.  For example, let’s use the hypothetical that your grandchildren’s parents have become incarcerated due to illegal drug possession and distribution.  They can call your home (at your expense) on a daily basis.  They can speak with your grandchildren and critique how you are raising them.  Your grandchildren’s acceptance of your parental authority diminishes if your grandchildren hear, “Oh, that’s *@$%!  You’re too old to have a bedtime!  You guys are in grade school now and are old enough to decide for yourself!  Your grandparents smothered me with rules too when I was a kid!  I couldn’t wait to get out of there when I was 18!”  If your state’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) (or whatever terminology your state uses) is involved, things get even more complicated.  There will be HHS home visits to ensure that your home is suitable for raising children and that you are doing an adequate job of taking care of your grandchildren.  There will be government-provided rules that you must follow to keep your grandchildren in your custody.  You may also have a series of court dates to get and keep your grandchildren, pursuant to your state’s rules.

In sum, this can be a difficult transition for both you and your grandchildren.  You will, of course, want to focus on your grandchildren’s emotional needs, but that does not need to occur to the exclusion of attending to your own emotional needs.  In this author’s opinion, both grandparents and grandchildren need a safe, neutral third party to whom they can speak about their thoughts and feelings as they move through this transition.  An experienced family counselor is recommended.  A support group for grandparent/grandchildren households can also be helpful.   The importance of family time and open communication cannot be emphasized enough.   Good communication with your grandchildren’s schools is essential.  A family-law-specialist lawyer is also recommended, as you will need to ensure that you have the legal authority to raise, provide for the medical care of, and make decisions on behalf of your grandchildren.  You may also need to revise your wills and other legal and financial records.  As you proceed through this difficult transition, the love that you feel for your grandchildren will need to remain your focal point:  if you stay focused on that, you and your grandchildren can make it through this transition successfully, together.

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