The U.S. Census Bureau reported that around 4.2 million households in the U.S. included both grandchildren and grandparents in 2012. Of those, 60% were supported by a grandparent.
While you love your grandchildren and would do anything in the world for them, grandparents often experience a number of positive and negative emotions when faced with the reality of raising more children. Kids are expensive and energetic. With some careful planning, though, you can still enjoy your retirement years while honoring your commitment to family.
Coming to Terms With the Situation
Having misgivings about the prospect of raising your grandchild or grandchildren is normal. Instead of learning a new hobby or dedicating your time to your passions in life, you must once again jump into the role of a parent. Give yourself time to accept your feelings. Feeling doubt, guilt, and worry is completely natural and does not mean you love your family any less.
Talk openly with your own children about your expectations during the time, and speak with your grandchildren about the changes. Lay out your expectations from the beginning to alleviate any stress and fear.
Finding Financial Support
Raising a child is expensive for any family, but it presents unique challenges for a grandparent. Depending on your circumstances, you may have access to a variety of government funded programs. Look into tax credits and subsidies, particularly if you’re still working to support your family. Some other programs that may offer financial support include:
● Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Regardless of a grandparent’s income, a child may fit the eligibility requirements for this low-income assistance program.
● Medicaid. A grandparent can apply for this type of insurance on behalf of a grandchild if the child does not already have private health insurance.
● Social Security. For children with deceased parents and children with disabilities, a parent’s social security benefits may provide financial support.
Talk to your local Social Security office, your Department of Social Services, and/or your Child Welfare Office to learn more about helpful aid programs. AARP also offers a wealth of information for grandparents through their GRANDFACTS state facts sheets. Find help for college savings, finding public benefits, and more with this grandparent specific site.
Custody and Guardianship
The arrangement of grandparent support looks different for every family. Some grandparents live with their children to provide care while a parent works. Others must take over the full role of parent because their own child is deceased or out of the picture. Still more provide support somewhere in between these roles, which can blur legal lines.
To qualify for many aid programs, a grandparent must demonstrate some kind of custody or parental authorization. For instance, a grandparent may have trouble enrolling a child in school, going to the doctor, or obtaining aid without some type of formal documentation. Talk to a family attorney to learn more about the best arrangement for your family’s situation. Proactively discussing custody and guardianship will prevent the courts from later making a custody/guardianship decision for you.
Tips for Finding Balance as a Grandparent
As you navigate the challenges of becoming a grandparent in a parent’s role, take a proactive approach to planning and communication. Finding balance is the key to making your new arrangement work for the benefit of everyone. Here are some encouraging tips you can use to cope well with the task at hand:
1. Arm yourself with support. A strong support network will give you a constructive space to talk through your feelings. Look for local support groups in the area. Churches may provide support services regardless of membership or religious affiliation. Friends and family may also help during the most challenging times.
2. Consider family counseling. Counseling isn’t only for people or families with “serious” problems. Anytime family dynamics change, family members must process a new set of feelings. Family counseling provides a forum for open communication, understanding, and coming to terms with the new arrangement. The process offers benefits for grandparents, parents, and children.
3. Create a safe, stable environment. Establish your ground rules for homework, cleaning, communication, and consequences. Develop a routine that includes both necessary activities and downtime. Your time and attention are priceless and can improve childhood development. Make time to talk with, play, or assist your grandchildren every day.
4. Don’t ignore your own needs. Take some time to attend to your own health and wellness. As with any full time job, too much time focusing on the needs of others can lead to burnout. Relax with a hobby or activity that you truly enjoy. Ask for your grandchildren to help you clean up the house or do something that gives you time to recharge. Kids enjoy feeling needed, and the interaction creates a more balanced relationship.
5. Separate your feelings about a child’s parent. Not having a parent in the picture can really affect a child’s mental health. You may have very strong feelings about the situation, but try to avoid shaping your grandchild’s view of his or her parents. Encourage parental contact if possible and focus on creating a positive connection between the child and a parent.
6. Keep a folder for each child. As a grandparent caretaker, you may take over many parental duties including maintaining immunizations, school requirements, and more. Instead of hunting for the information you need, keep a file or folder that includes the originals or copies of every document you may need for your grandchild. Include information such as birth certificates, social security cards, school registration information, military papers, custody or other legal documents, and financial information.
When you decide to take on the role of a parent again, you have to be your own cheerleader. You can do this without sacrificing your commitment to personal health and wellness. Take your new role one day at a time, plan accordingly, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help! Millions of grandparents are in the same or a similar situation as you.