If you were to take a snapshot of Missouri families today and compare them to Missouri families from 100 years ago, there would be multiple differences. One difference would be found in family composition. The majority of families of yesteryear were made up of a mother, father and children. Now, we see two-parent families, single-parent families, stepfamilies, kinship families, and grandparents raising their grandchildren.
When grandparents begin parenting for the second time around they are often able to keep children with family when biological parents are unable, or unwilling, to care for them. Some of these grandparents may not have planned on raising more children especially if they are facing their own challenges of growing older. Some of the challenges that they may face include a shortage of time and money, declining health, possible legal concerns and acceptance of their own child’s inability to parent.
When grandchildren move into the home and grandma and grandpa suddenly take on the role of mommy and daddy as well, it can be emotional and overwhelming for all individuals involved. It is important that both the grandparents and grandchildren understand that their feelings, even the negative ones, are normal and acceptable. As individuals, we want and need our feelings to be heard and be validated. If a grandparent says that they are tired all the time, agreeing with them by saying taking care of kids is exhausting, is one easy way to show that they are being heard.
As grandparents open their homes to their grandchildren, or as other relatives begin caring for their family members, it is important that they continue to care for themselves. There are several things that could make life less stressful or worrisome for caregivers. Some of those may be time-off (respite care), counseling, financial assistance, child care, food assistance, toys or health insurance. Grandparents may find support through other family members, grandparent support groups, pre-school/childcare/after school programs, YMCA, Salvation Army, or churches. Reducing the stress that grandparents face and help increase their positive interactions with their grandchildren.
If (grand)parenting remains stressful, it is common for stress-related problems to start or get worse. Caregivers need to make sure and see their doctor regularly and follow his or her advice. At least three times a week, they should spend 20 minutes exercising. Grandparents can implement a regular “quiet hour” in the household for everyone, from toddlers to teens. They can take the children to places that are restful such as the park or pool, as long as they are not crowded. Grandparents can also look for places where their grandchildren can have fun apart from them, such as story time at the library for youngsters or Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H or the YMCA will have opportunities for older youth.
It is important for grandparents to focus on reducing their stress and managing their feelings. It is equally important to focus time and attention on the children as well. For grandparents, especially for those who recently stepped into the caregiving role, it is important to remember that they can positively impact their grandchildren and their grandchildren’s behaviors. Giving attention to positive behavior helps to reinforce those behaviors while also understanding that misbehavior may be a cry for help.
Routines and structure can help children adjust to new situations. If misbehavior occurs at school, it could be related to learning problems and the grandparent should work closely with the school. One of the most important things for grandparents to remember is that children learn by example. It is now up to them to provide a good one.
Information adapted from Cornell Cooperative Extension (2002) Parenting The Second Time Around.
For more information on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren, contact Jessica Trussell, Human
Development Specialist, at 660-646-0811.