Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
The time of life when we have the privilege of enjoying our grandchildren can be very fulfilling and fun. But for some grandparents, it’s more complicated.
Rather than enjoying their post-parenting years watching their children take on the primary caregiving of their own children, they’ve found themselves in the position of raising their grandchildren.
There are several reasons that this may occur, including:
- the physical or mental illness or death of the parent(s)
- a son or daughter with a substance abuse problem
- parental abandonment
- the need to provide regular, sustained childcare in order for the parent(s) to be able to provide financially for their children
If you are a grandparent raising a grandchild or grandchildren, you are to be admired and appreciated for the sacrifice of time and energy you’re making.
In this first of two blogs on the topic, I will provide some suggestions for managing your new role as a primary caregiver, beginning now, with self-care.
You’ll need a lot of energy to care for growing children, so it’s imperative for you to take care of yourself. You can’t serve them well if you’re feeling depleted, so your care of self is actually a way that you give to them.
Pay attention to your need to eat well, get regular exercise ,and get good, recuperative sleep. Eating well and exercising will help you keep your energy level up, and sleep will contribute to your ability to recover from active days with your grandchildren and contribute to a better mood.
What’s so great about these necessary ingredients of good health is that they require little money or planning.
Obviously, food costs money, but cutting out high salt, high sugar, and high fat food can actually save a lot of money at the grocery store. Instead, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and good sources of low-fat protein are generally considered to be part of a healthy diet.
Likewise, getting regular exercise doesn’t require a costly gym membership. Walking is actually one of the best exercises for aging bodies, and the best part is, it is an activity that is free of charge.
At the same time, sleep is usually improved via implementation of a good sleep routine, including:
- avoiding caffeine after noon on any given day
- getting off screens at least 3 hours before bedtime
- finishing with daily exercise at least 3 hours before bedtime
- setting up your bedroom so it is cooler, rather than hotter (have extra blankets available in cases you get too cold at night)
- making your bed comfortable
- going to bed at the same time each night
Your self-care shouldn’t stop with physical care. It’s important to pay attention to your emotional, social, and spiritual health as well.
Coping with children who are struggling and attending to grandchildren who may be hurting will require emotional strength from you.
If you feel as if you need help to bolster that strength, don’t hesitate to identify a friend or family member who can encourage and support you, a mentor who can help you sort things out, or a mental health professional if you feel that is necessary.
Do you have a hobby? Keeping up with an activity that brings you joy is a great stress buffer.
You might also benefit from having a healthy outlet for frustration. It’s normal to become frustrated at times with little ones and not so little ones, but it’s important not to express that frustration to them. Instead, vent your feelings by getting some physical exercise or pouring yourself into any sort of activity that will allow you to get rid of emotions that could be harmful to your relationship with grandchildren.
Typically, activities that require you to move around or engage the creative part of your brain help to release frustration and contribute to feeling more fulfilled.
It’s also important to keep up your friendships and take time to socialize with the people who are important in your life. Think about Jesus, who took the disciples with him to the Garden of Gethsemane when he was facing his arrest and crucifixion. While there, he told Peter, James and John:
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” – Mark 14:34
Do you find it interesting that the Lord of Lords needed his friends to be near him in his time of need? I think He was demonstrating the importance of fellowship for believers when they are struggling.
Trusted friends can offer a listening ear, help you get away from the stresses in your life, and be with you to enjoy adult activities without interruptions from children. During non-stress times, moments with friends give you an opportunity to have fun and laugh.
Scheduled social engagements will also help you have something to look forward to when you’re in the midst of some very busy days with grandchildren.
Raising grandchildren can feel like a marathon, rather than a walk in the park. For this reason, it’s important to pray regularly for strength and hope.
Expressing gratitude is something that is known to help people reduce stress and feel hopeful. We are called to give thanks to God on a regular basis, in times of provision and in times of suffering.
Some verses you might want to meditate on are:
- Ephesians 5:18-20
- I Thessalonians 5:18
- Romans 5:3-5
- James 1:2-4
Reach out to your church community and ask for prayer and support or join a Bible Study or community group that can feed your need for some spiritual food.
You may be thinking, “Sounds good, Joannie, but I am now taking care of three grandchildren. How am I supposed to have time for self-care?”
Well, you can weave some of the self-care into the time you care for grandchildren. So, for example, you can eat well-balanced meals with your grandchildren and get plenty of exercise being active with them. This will benefit both of you.
I encourage parents and grandparents to try to find other caregivers who can be available to care for children at least once per week while they are working on taking care of some of their emotional, social, and spiritual needs. It’s important for kids to learn to get along with other caregivers so this idea helps them as well.
If you’re unable to make other arrangements for grandchild care, you can get up a little earlier than usual and do some self-care at that time or after they go to bed. You could also explore online Bible studies or support groups if getting to and from church is difficult for you or if you are not currently involved with a local church.
You may need to care for yourself in shorter time periods than previously such as 3 days for 20 minutes at a time instead of 1 day for an hour.
Finally, many churches have Stephen Ministry programs which provide lay counseling for people experiencing normal struggles in life or those who need an extra layer of support. You might want to find out if your church or others in your area have this program and call to request that you get paired with a Stephen Minister.