By Megan McQueen
I got to know a grandmother as she took over care for her grandchild. She struggled to shift into her new role as caretaker while setting new boundaries and establishing routines. She had pictured herself being the fun-loving grandparent who got to say “Yes!” to her grandchild’s whims, but realized this role needed to shift as she played the role of parent, too. This new life as her grandchild’s caregiver was not the one she had imagined for herself. She also worried about her daughter who battled with addiction. At the same time, the grandmother relished this “bonus time” with her joyful grandchild. She thoroughly enjoyed the closeness they experienced together.
A change in family dynamics can be stressful and traumatic. It may also bring relief to families during a time of stress and need. Grandparents who step in to care for their grandchildren may have to manage adjustments in their finances, living arrangements, and energy levels. They may also need to care for and support their own adult child (if still living), or manage their grief if not. On top of all these changes are the children’s mental health needs. As a grandparent continuing or stepping into a new role with your grandchildren, it may be helpful to acknowledge and accept all of your feelings – the ups and the downs – without shame so that you can also seek out and create moments of joy with your grandchildren. You have an opportunity to connect with a child in a new way who will remind you of the importance of living in the present. You have raised children, and you can do it again.
These suggestions may help your new routine become more easeful with your grandchildren.
Get necessary paperwork and legal needs in order. Look into your insurance to see about adding your grandchild or apply for state assistance (such as the Oregon Health Plan). Look into medical records to ensure that immunizations, well-child checks, and preventative visits are up-to-date. Remember to include dental and vision appointments for the children, too. You can also apply for financial assistance through the DHS Self-Sufficiency Offices. Create a file for your grandchild with contact information for their medical team as well as Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) and others who are involved in your grandchild’s care.
Create a support team. Think about who you can lean on when you need a break. Who do you have a trusting relationship with that can watch your grandchildren? Who can help with extracurricular events and school commutes? Who can provide emotional support for you and for your grandchildren? In addition to these trusted friends, think about who can provide medical and emotional support that you and your family may need. Make a list of these people so you can easily lean in when you need additional support.
Communicate with your grandchild’s teachers. You may feel reluctant to share your family situation, but teachers are familiar with all different kinds of families. Communicating your grandchild’s background will help her teachers gain insight into how they can better meet her needs at school. By beginning with an honest conversation, you demonstrate that you have your grandchild’s best interests at heart. Attend as many family events as possible including conferences, family nights, even PTA meetings if you can. Getting involved will allow you and the community around you to support your grandchild’s time in school. If your grandchildren are young enough, seek out Head Start for assistance. Head Start offers wraparound services for the entire family.
Be active together! Use your grandchildren’s energy to help keep you healthy as well. Keep moving by gardening together, taking walks in the neighborhood, biking to a nearby park, and walking or biking to school if possible. Ask your pediatrician about recommended activity goals and nutrition suggestions. It is amazing how quickly the medical and health field updates their guidance. Realize you may need more learning about this, but you will all benefit – especially if you spend the time active and cooking together. Food Hero is a great resource with easy recipes that children can be involved in, kid-tested & approved recipes, and recipes with 5 items or fewer!
Learn about Trauma-Based Care. Often children arrive in your home because of trauma. Family members may have different reactions to the same stress. Understanding how children develop and how trauma can impact growing bodies and brains will help you respond in a caring, supportive manner. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network can provide helpful insight about how we react to stress and how we can care for ourselves and others who have experienced trauma. When you care for yourself, not only will you be a more compassionate caregiver, but you are also modeling important self-care strategies for the children in your life.
Reach out and connect with other families. Find a parenting group or class in your area to help your family create community. All kinds of parents are welcome – step-parents, foster parents, and grandparents. Your experience will be valuable to share with others. You may learn new evidence-based strategies to support your grandchild’s wellbeing and feel supported. You may find a safe place to ask questions and learn about local resources for families.
Families come in many different forms and are simply groups of people who love and care for each other. We all have an origin story and they are often different from one another’s. Be proud of your family! Many children are being raised by grandparents or other relatives for a variety of reasons. There are agencies and resources that are in place to support you. Your situation may not be what you envisioned for yourself, but you can all learn from it and grow together. You will benefit from having close relationships with each other.
- Generations United
- Grandfamilies : A national legal resource
- Grandfamilies Links to Helpful Services in Oregon
- Raising a Relative with a Disability
- Resource Guide for Relatives Raising Children in Oregon : This guide has many practical tips for specific situations as well as links and contact information for more support (such as if the children has parent who are incarcerated, or if the children are navigating disabilities)
- Webinar: Help for Grandfamilies Impacted by Substance Abuse
- The Grandfamily Guidebook by Adamac and Adesman
- Grandparents as Parents by Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown
- Raising Our Children’s Children by Deborah Doucette
- The Family Book by Todd Parr
- Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang
- Our Grandfamily by Sandra Werle
- Sometimes It’s Grandmas and Grandpas: Not Mommies and Daddies by Gayle Byrne
- Visiting Day by Jacqueline Woodson
- When Kids Have Grandparents as Parents by Lauren Gould
For a downloadable tip sheet, see this blog post.
Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, importing a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.