Grandparenting, I’m told, is one of life’s greatest joys. I’ve personally witnessed the unconditional love of a grandparent for a grandchild, and vice versa. It’s happy stuff. Mostly.
But what if it isn’t? I’ve also seen people who, due to unforeseen circumstances, have no choice but to take their grandchildren in and raise them. Situations can range from substance abuse to mental illness to neglect to incarceration to the death of the biological parent(s). Grandparents sometimes have to make the difficult decision of taking over the rearing of their grandchildren in order to avoid having the kids placed in foster care. Not easy, that’s for sure.
If you are this situation or you know of someone who has taken over the custody and care of grandchildren, please be aware that this is not unique. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, substance abuse is a factor in as many as two-thirds of all child abuse/neglect cases. As a parent of an adult child who has a substance abuse problem, and as a grandparent of that adult child’s offspring, your challenges can cause immense emotional conflict. How do you give tough love to your substance-abusing daughter while, at the same time, nurturing her little ones?
There is help available. A particularly terrific resource is www.Helpguide.org. Look for the section on Parenting and Family, and then scroll down until you find Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Another suggestion is to log onto www.AARP.org and then look for the Grand Families Guide, where you will find information on a wide spectrum of topics from behavior to finance.
Are you beginning to feel less alone?
And while you’re searching for online assistance about your grandchildren, please don’t give up on their parents. There are mental health professionals in every community dedicated to helping those who are struggling with substance abuse and mental illness. I will be happy to refer you to several well-qualified experts, or you can check out psychologytoday.com to find a therapist nearby.
At the risk of further overwhelming you, I’m going to suggest one other avenue, and that is to be sure to allow some time to take care of yourself. Whether self-care means a monthly massage, or a day off, or a housekeeper, please, please take a few moments to think about what you can do for yourself in order to be a happier, healthier caregiver to those innocent grandchildren. Obviously, they did not ask for their care to be transferred to you nor did you expect to be in charge. Nevertheless, this is both their new normal and yours. Suffering through it is the wrong answer. The right answer is to gather your resources while, at the same time, to take care of yourself.
If you need a quick session with a family mediator in order to establish some ground rules for your new family, please reach out. It would be an honor for me to be able to help.
My dear friend, for many years, in San Diego has a daughter who is mentally ill (1 of her 4 children). That daughter had 3 children; her son (10 years old), lives with my friend’scex-husband. My friend adopted the two youngest, 2 and 4 years old. She just turned 60, and retired. She didn’t want flyer grandchildren to be in foster care. She allows her daughter to see the kids whenever she’s able. My friend has a lot of support from her other children, and even her parents (in their 80s) help. I don’t think I could do it.