If you were to combine the ingenuity of Batman’s gadgets with Superman’s super speed, grandparents would still outdo them on both counts. When they’re needed, grandparents “leap tall buildings in a single bound” with crafty crafts, extra hugs, and plenty of sugary-baked goods in tow. But when grandparents are asked to take on the responsibility of raising their grandkids, they truly transform into the superheroes of their grandkids’ lives.
If you’re a grandparent making the transition from part-time sugar supplier to full-time caregiver, know that you’re not alone. “There’s a variety of different reasons where circumstances arise for kids to live with their grandparents,” says Lee Schardein, a licensed professional clinical counselor with Bridge Counseling and Wellness in Louisville. Whatever the situation is, the main desire is to keep their toddler, tween, or teenager safe and supported.
Make a plan
Grandparents should prepare themselves for their new role. “Make sure you have your own support, stay connected with your friends, or even seek your own therapy. This can aid you through this transition,” Lee says. Making sure your emotional support system is in place can provide the backup and confidence you need when beginning this journey.
Be honest with your grandchild
You might notice an awkward (but expected) shift in your relationship with your grandchild as you shift into fulltime caregiver mode, Lee says. In order to make this shift a smooth one, have an age-appropriate dialogue with your grandkid. “I would encourage honesty and a conversation to happen,” Lee says. Address this transition in a loving way. You can say something like, “Roles are switching, and I may have to set more limits and show up a little bit differently in your life,” Lee says.
If “it takes a village to raise a child,” your “village” may include helpful reinforcements like support groups, and Lee says, “family resource centers located at schools and a lot of churches” can provide more information for locating these groups.
Not only will groups like these have practical information on emotional wellbeing, schooling, and what version of Minecraft your grandkid is playing, they’ll also offer emotional support. “I think groups are especially helpful,” Lee says. “Having other people around you going through a similar situation can be comforting, and helpful tips can arise from that.”
KIPDA offers help
The Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency (KIPDA) offers a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program, whose mission is to “serve grandparents of any age who are caring for their grandchildren.”
The program is devoted to making sure grandparents have the help they need. “We contract with Jewish Family and Career Services, and they provide a support group for grandparents,” says Julie Cassin, KIPDA’s family caregiver coordinator. JFCS also offers individual counseling.
KIPDA also contracts with the Legal Aid Society, which provides “free civil legal help on issues related to income, family, housing, safety, and health.” In addition, any caregiver who meets the requirements and lives in one of the seven counties of the KIPDA region may apply for a financial voucher until the grandchild turns 19. You must reapply every year. “I have grandparents that have been in this program for many years,” Julie says.
Don’t neglect yourself
If you are one of those grandparents raising this next generation, both Julie and Lee want you to remember to be gentle with yourself. Should you feel overwhelmed in your new role, Lee says, “Just remembering that saying ‘I need a break’ is helpful.” In those parenting moments when a few minutes of alone time is a must, search out your best coping tools and use what works to keep your mental health in check.
Depending on the age of your grandchild, you can take a short walk, phone a friend, or read a chapter in a book if you need a moment of clarity. If you need other suggestions for taking a break, Lee suggests tools such as “stepping into the other room and taking a few deep breaths or making time to watch your favorite television show — whatever helps you release stress.”
Taking care of yourself can also mean staying grounded in who you are. “A lot of grandparents have different things that they enjoy doing. Making sure that they can still get out there and do those things that they enjoy on occasion is important,” Lee says. In taking care of you, you’ll be better able to maintain your stamina and get some much-needed rest.
Acknowledge the sadness
This transition can be unexpected and emotional. Julie says, “This is a situation that some grandparents did not expect to be in at this time in their lives.” Whether this life change grew out of tragedy, trauma, or some other unforeseen circumstance, it’s normal to experience some feelings of sadness and/or grief. Lee says, “This transition can involve grief, and acknowledging what’s really happening is extremely helpful.” This is when having your emotional support systems in place can help.
BY TONILYN HORNUNG
P.S. Read about six tips on helping someone with dementia.