By Belinda Crosier, LPC, LADC
Over 8% of Oklahoma children are being provided some level of care by their grandparents. For many, the “golden years” become just another cycle of childrearing. The number of grandparents who provide primary care for their grandchildren is growing for a variety of reasons; parental death, substance abuse, incarceration, mental health issues, military deployment, teen pregnancy, abandonment, abuse or neglect. The percentage of grandparents raising grandchildren is the highest it has been in over 40 years, and the trend does not appear likely to reverse itself any time soon.
Making the decision to assume this role can be a source of conflict. Practically speaking, there may be little time to prepare emotionally, or in terms of physical accommodations. Finances may already be limited, as many grandparents live on fixed incomes, or they may have seen their nest eggs shrink as a result of the economy. Emotionally, they may experience feelings of anger, resentment or guilt. They may grieve the retirement they had hoped for in exchange for a new role of disciplinarian. This becomes especially hard when the grandchildren have behavioral problems, or are angry they can’t be with their biological parents.
A lack of energy to provide proper supervision and activities may cause additional stress or guilt. Other adult children may be critical of the grandparents or resentful, and feel their own children are neglected. Dealing with the biological parents of the grandchildren can be an ongoing source of conflict. They may show up for visits, create chaos, reopen their emotional wounds, only to disappear again, leaving the grandparents to deal with the aftermath.
If you find yourself in this role, it is absolutely essential that you make time to care for yourself, maintain social connections and seek support. It will probably feel like you’re renegotiating the terms of your relationships with your grandchildren, however, loving firmness and consistency will be your best friends! Always remember that the grandchildren’s well-being is the priority when setting boundaries with absentee parents. Counseling can be of help for everyone involved, and may be necessary to help the children deal with their emotions or behavioral issues, as well as your own.
Fortunately, there are lots of resources for today’s grandparents. Churches, Mothers-Day-Out programs, and your grandchildren’s friends’ parents may be of help in providing some respite when needed. For even more resources check out the following: http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Grandparents.shtml, http://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/info-08-2011/grandfamilies-guide-getting-started.html, and www.grandfactsheets.org.
The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has established a Grandparent Initiative which provides an information and resource guide for grandparents raising grandchildren, an annual conference, and a clearinghouse of information that can be accessed by calling 1-800-42-OASIS, 522-4510 or by contacting email@example.com. A support group “Family Circles: Relatives Serving as Parents” meets twice monthly and provides activities for children while grandparents meet separately; get more information at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 722-7445. For help with these or any other family or mental health issues, please contact Edmond Family Counseling at 405-341-3554. Check out our blogs and website at www.edmondfamily.org. We will be pleased to help!