Parenting Your Way Through the Golden Years.
As we near retirement age, there are many things to which we look forward – leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the 9-to-5 working world, having more time to engage in our favorite hobbies or traveling to all of the places we’ve longed to see during our lifetime.
Many seniors and boomers also look forward to spending more time with their families, including grandchildren. However, more than 2.5 million grandparents are finding themselves in an entirely new role when it comes to their grandchildren. When our adult children are unable or unwilling to raise their own children, the obligation often falls on the grandparents to step into the caregiver role.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, adult relatives of children who are no longer in the care of their birth parents are given preference when determining the placement of the children. Child welfare agencies are required to investigate whether an adult relative meets all relevant state child protection standards before recommending a child instead be placed with a foster family. Generally, preference is given to grandparents first, followed by aunts, uncles, adult siblings, and cousins.
In both Oregon and Washington, relative placement (including grandparents) for foster care and guardianship issues is considered the first step. Child Welfare Information Gateway provides information for the guidelines for every state.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting – to be a Parent Again
So what happens if you find yourself in the position of being asked to step in and take over the role of parent for your own grandchildren?
First of all, it’s important to admit how you’re feeling about the situation. Being asked to raise your own grandchildren can produce a multitude of emotions, ranging from love and relief at knowing they will be with you in a stable environment, to fear and resentment at being asked to step into a parenting role again at your age. At a time when you were anticipating having more freedom, learning that you will be taking over a parenting role – especially if your grandchildren are very young – can feel overwhelming.
Do not be too hard on yourself if you experience negative feelings. It is perfectly normal and denying them can be disastrous for both you and your grandchild. If you find you are unable to overcome your feelings of negativity, please consider seeking the assistance of family counselor who can help you to work through them and to best prepare for your new (and unexpected) situation.
It’s important to remember that even though you are changing from the role of grandparent to parent, there is one thing you already have working for you – experience. You’ve done the parenting thing before, and that can be an incredible advantage. The basics of child rearing haven’t changed, so relying on your past experience with your own children will be a great guide in your new adventure with your grandchildren.
Top Tips for a Smoother Transition
In addition to being emotionally prepared for your new role, it is also very important to make sure you are in good physical health. If it’s been awhile since you’ve had a checkup with your family physician, make an appointment. Explain your new situation and ask for a full medical evaluation to make sure that you are physically able to handle your new responsibilities.
Raising children can be emotionally, physically and financially taxing, all of which can have an effect on our overall health and well being. It is important to remember that you cannot properly take care of them if you aren’t taking care of yourself. In addition to seeing a healthcare provider, it’s vital that you also pay attention to proper nutrition, and get plenty of sleep and exercise.
Keep in mind that just because you have a new responsibility also does not mean you can no longer have leisure time to enjoy date nights with your spouse or to engage in your favorite hobby. Make sure you have a reliable support network, which can include other family members or hired help, who will relieve you of your duties so you can engage in a little rest and relaxation.
If your grandchildren are older, it’s OK to have them share in the responsibility. Remember that this is going to be an adjustment for them as well as for you, and being able to help out will give them a sense of purpose and belonging.
Other things you will need to do to make the situation easier for both you and your grandchildren include:
- Find support groups for not only yourself but for your grandchildren as well. Counselors may need to be involved if your grandchildren are having a hard time adjusting. Children, especially young ones, may not always understand the reason they are now in your care and may resent their new situation. They may exhibit their resentment in a variety of ways, including through inappropriate and aggressive behavior. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, so don’t take it personally. Just be sure to get them the professional help they need.
- Create a stable and safe environment for them. If you think that having your grandchildren living with you is an adjustment for you, just think about how it must feel for them. Not only have they been separated from their parents, but they also are now in a new environment. Regardless of whether they’ve visited your home before, it will still feel like a strange place for them under the circumstances. Make sure your grandchild has his own space in your home. If you are being given guardianship of more than one grandchild at the same time, giving each of them their own rooms is ideal. However, if that is not possible, try to create space where each child can go to have down time when needed. This can include something as simple as a playhouse or a tent in the back yard.
- Establish house rules and a routine for your grandchildren. Every child needs consistency, and in a time when everything else may feel topsy-turvy for them, a consistent daily routine and house rules will help.
- Encourage open communication with your grandchildren within reason. There obviously may be some things you cannot discuss with them, especially if they were removed from their parents due to a safety or welfare issue. But talking regularly with them, and letting them know that it is OK to express both good and bad feelings to you, will help tremendously.
- When appropriate, encourage your grandchildren to have contact with their parents. If they were removed from the home due to a safety or health issue, visits with parents may require supervision by an officer of the court.
Additional help for grandparents raising their grandchildren can be found on the Oregon Department of Human Services website.