When Grandparents Become the Parents
By: Leah Kackley
Few things can humble an adult more than parenting. Emotional, mental, financial and physical challenges come as almost a surprise, but the deep love and joy that children bring to parents make those challenges an accepted, almost embraced, part of the journey. Imagine, though, what that journey is like combined with legal problems, zero preparation, additional guilt or shame, without the physical advantage of youth, or without community support. Quite often, this is what grandparents are facing when they find themselves in the position of raising their grandkids.
Roe Hunter, MA, LPC, NCC is a counselor with LifeWorks Counseling Center in Madison. Because of his work with families, he is familiar with the unique stress of grandparents taking on a parenting role. He says: “Stress and burden of feeling like a failure are typical under these circumstances. Grandparents have already fulfilled their roles of being parents, and for whatever reason they are being asked to put their twilight years on hold. There is a stress that is associated with raising young children later in life because of the vast amount of energy required.” This additional strain can also lead to problems like depression and anxiety, that perhaps could be avoided otherwise.
There are many reasons for families to find themselves in this situation. Death, deployment, incarceration, addiction and abandonment are just some of the reasons for grandparents to make the bold and brave choice to step in the gap. The pain that sometimes leads them to this decision can get compounded by society’s response. Often, they also have to deal with their own feelings of disappointment or heartache, since it is their own children who put them in the parenting role. It’s important for them to know how to handle themselves when handling parenting, again.
Hunter stresses: “It is imperative that grandparents take care of their own needs first and make that a priority. If a grandparent is stressed out or depressed, it will be harder for him or her to respond to the children’s needs.” There are a few things that may help reduce the unique stress and pressure of parenting grandchildren: going on long walks, starting a new hobby, joining a book club, meditating, practicing mindfulness and learning to accept the things that cannot be changed.
There are now more grandparents than ever before who have found themselves in this place, whether willingly or not. The community’s response can be of immense importance. Validation of the grandparents’ efforts and devotion can help them do their job while they mourn the life they gave up. Hunter highly recommends reading “Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and “Parenting with Love and Logic” by Foster Cline – these books outline the developmental tasks for children, and will be a valuable resource in raising grandchildren.
Resources for Support:
Relatives As Parents Program (RAPP) sponsored by The Petal Association for Families provides a monthly support group for relatives raising children. The meetings are an hour and a half and include complimentary supper and child care. The first half-hour is informational, with coverage on a variety of issues, and the remaining time is for group sharing and problem solving. Information is made available to participants by guest speakers on a variety of issues, including legal custody, health care, self-care and education. Groups are facilitated by licensed social workers. There are monthly recreational outings and summer camps for grandchildren provided.
Contact: Dr. Sylvia Forester, Executive Director
Phone: (601) 582-0909
Families as Allies
Contact: Joy Hogge, Ph.D.
Phone: 601-355-0915 ext. 12 or 1-800-833-9671 (toll-free)
Service Area: Statewide
Service description: Information and referrals, advocacy and peer support
Mississippi Families for Kids – Relatives Raising Others’ Children (ROC)
Contact: Nadeane Sander
Phone: 601-957-7670 ext. 102
Service Area: Statewide
Service description: Information and referrals, access to clothes closet, assistance with school supplies, educational workshops on legal rights, custody issues and visitation
Leah Kackley lives, works and homeschools in the Rez/Fannin area with her husband Jason and their three kiddos. To all the grandparents standing in the void for their grandchildren, whatEVER the reason, Thank You!! You are loved! And thank you to Roe Hunter at LifeWorks for his great help with this article.