According to recent research, the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren is on the rise: In 2016 The Pew Charitable Trusts reported that 2.9 million Americans were “custodial grandparents,” with legal responsibility for raising their children’s children. And, according to U.S. Census data, 1.5 million of these custodial grandparents are still in the workforce.
Grandparents may take on parenting responsibilities when their own children struggle with drug or alcohol dependency, have health issues, pass away, or become incarcerated. In February 2018, the U.S. Senate passed the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act. This act will create a federal task force to support the increasing number of grandparents raising grandchildren — many as a result of the swelling opioid addiction crisis.
Although your plans for your adult years may not have included raising your grandchildren, you now have an even greater opportunity to positively impact this new generation. Use these seven tips to shine in your new role as a custodial grandparent.
Take Care of Your Health and Wellness
Paying attention to making healthy lifestyle choices may already have been on your radar as you approach (or already enjoy) retirement. Now it’s even more important to optimize your health because you’re responsible for young children.
Look for ways to include your grandkids in physical activities that will benefit all of you. Get outside in warmer weather, and establish a daily walk to the park, a weekly hike, or a regular after-dinner game of pick-up basketball. When the weather’s cooler, head indoors and work through a kids’ yoga or dance DVD together. Check out the schedule at your local indoor pool for family swim times — a fun physical activity for all ages.
In addition to booking medical and dental checkups for your grandkids, remember to book an annual physical checkup for yourself as well, to stay on top of any medical issues that could hamper your ability to care for the children.
Look for opportunities to enjoy some quiet time. If possible, continue with a pursuit or hobby you enjoy as an older adult — one that has nothing to do with children. Arrange for a weekly babysitter, and go to that book club meeting or head out to the golf course.
Establish a Local Support System
As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” So take advantage of any local or state resources and support programs to help you. For example, Georgia State University’s Project Healthy Grandparents offers services such as social worker visits and health screenings to grandparents raising grandchildren in their local area.
Start by searching for local grandparent support groups in your area and find out when they meet and what they offer. Also search for a “kinship navigator” program in your area. A kinship navigator helps find appropriate services and resources to support you as a grandparent raising your grandchild. As of April 2018, approximately 70 kinship navigator programs are offered throughout the country.
Organizations that may have parenting, family, and other childrearing-related programs include:
- Public health departments (workshops and resources on nutrition, childhood health, etc.)
- Your doctor’s office
- School guidance centers (mental health, education, resources)
- Community and social services offices (family counseling and more, parenting workshops)
- Recreation centers or the local YMCA
- Public libraries
Get to know the teachers, coaches, and other adults who play important roles in your grandchild’s life. Ask about programs, workshops, and any other resources that can help you hone your grandparenting and parenting skills.
Connect With Other Grandparents and Older Parents
In addition to the organized programs and formal support in your area, look for informal opportunities to connect with other custodial grandparents and even older parents. Talking with someone who’s experiencing a similar situation raising children at this stage of life may help ease your concerns, provide alternative solutions to problems you share, or even just give you a friendly and understanding listener.
Find your grandparenting/parenting peers by chatting to others who appear to be in your demographic at school and sporting events, at the playground, and at any activities to which you accompany your grandchildren. Search the AARP online community groups for “raising grandchildren” to see posts from other custodial grandparents.
Another option could be to start your own custodial grandparent support group. Set up a Facebook Group, or post a notice at your community center, library, medical center, or church.
Stay Up to Date on Parenting Changes
Yes, you’re an experienced parent, but parenting methods have changed since your children were in diapers.
As you take on the role of primary caregiver to your grandchildren, invest some time in learning about changing parenting methods based on new research.
Review parenting magazines and websites, and ask your pediatrician or social worker for recommendations on books, courses, or workshops.
Provide Love and Stability
Grandparents often take over as primary caregivers for grandchildren during a difficult time in the child’s life. So, what role will you play? Your grandchild needs love and stability above all else. Don’t let yourself worry that your grandchild will be at a disadvantage because they’re being raised by an older adult.
In today’s world, “non-traditional” families are much more visible and accepted than they may have been when you were growing up. Even in the 20 or more years since you raised your own children, family structures have become more varied. And your grandchild may soon find friends who also live with a grandparent. The latest Pew Research Center analysis shows a record 64 million Americans now live in multigenerational households.
Be Honest and Nonjudgmental
As a parent and grandparent, you may feel uncertain about how to discuss your own child’s absence from your grandchild’s life. And you may struggle with your own feelings about your child’s behavior and the issues that have led to this situation.
Answer your grandchildren’s questions about your children as open and honestly as possible. Use language the children will understand, given their age and development. For example, consider using phrases like, “Mommy is sick and is away getting better,” or, “Daddy loves you but can’t look after you,” when communicating with preschoolers.
If your grandchildren’s parents have died, consider talking to your family doctor, local social worker, or family counselor about how to communicate with your grandchildren. While experts recommend being honest and direct when talking to kids about the death of a loved one, it may help to get some advice on the best language to use, based on the circumstances and the children’s ages. The American Psychological Association offers more examples of how to talk to kids about tough topics.
Acknowledge your grandchild’s feelings as well as your own: “It’s okay to be sad and miss your mom. I’m sad, too. But we are here for each other.”
Reassure them that you love them, and that their parents do, too, although they may not be around.
Mind Your Finances
In addition to the daily tasks involved in childrearing, when grandparents raise grandchildren, they often face an unexpected financial burden. Identifying financial issues immediately puts you in a stronger position to make budgetary and income adjustments.
If you’re retired, meet with your financial advisor to discuss your options for making adjustments to your fixed income from investments. If you’re still working, talk to your tax advisor to find out if you qualify for the earned income tax credit.
Now is a good time to look into getting additional life insurance on yourself to help provide for your grandchildren should it become necessary. It’s also a good idea to update your homeowners insurance policy to reflect the additional family members moving in.
Raising your grandchildren can be a rewarding and challenging experience. Take advantage of all the support programs that are available to you, and take care of yourself as well as your grandchildren to build a strong family unit.