Written by Dr. Joannie DeBrito, Family Support Specialist
In Part 1 of this blog, I discussed the importance of self-care for grandparents raising grandchildren.
Now, I’d like to share how grandparents can nurture family relationships while caring for grandchildren and seek mental health and legal help, if necessary.
I will end with some misconceptions and suggestions for how the church community can support these grandparents.
Nurturing Family Relationships
As much as possible, it’s essential to try to maintain a good relationship with your children. This is true even if you are caring for your grandchildren because their parent is suffering from a mental illness or addiction or they’ve been neglectful.
The hope is that your caregiving will be temporary while your child is getting the help he or she needs to return to parenting your grandchildren. If you have maintained a good relationship with your child during the recovery process, it will be easier for your grandchildren to make the transition when caregiving is transferred from you back to your child.
Most importantly, your child will be likely to want you to continue to be an integral part of your grandchild(ren)’s life.
Also, if you have an adversarial relationship with your children, your grandchild(ren) will observe this and either cause problems for you as they defend their parent(s) or become angry with their parent(s) for not being able to care for them. Your goal should be to do whatever you can to contribute to a healthy relationship between parent and child(ren) if the parent is able to return to being the primary caregiver.
It’s also essential to keep the relationship between children and grandchildren going. This can be done even if there are concerns about a parent’s ability to responsibly parent the child(ren).
Many years ago, I was able to help a father and daughter find ways to interact with their mentally ill ex-wife and mother in a way that the daughter was able to maintain and appreciate her relationship with her mom but also protect herself from being hurt by exposure to her mental illness. She enjoyed weekly times of painting together, always with Dad nearby in case Mom’s behavior began to become potentially hurtful.
Mental Health and Legal Help
On the other hand, if you have a legitimate reason to be concerned about the safety of your grandchild(ren) because you have evidence to predict that your child(ren) may harm your grandchild(ren), you may need to temporarily or permanently cut ties with your child to protect your grandchild(ren).
It is best to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional and an attorney, both with expertise in child custody issues, to decide if your situation may warrant this decision.
If so, these professionals can help make legal arrangements for gaining custody of your grandchild(ren) and protecting them from being harmed by their parent(s). They can also help you get access to individual and family counseling to work through the effects of custody battles on all parties.
If you have a friend or family member who is a primary caregiver of a grandchild or grandchildren, please know that for many of them, the experience can be very isolating and discouraging.
Some people (even fellow Christians) may not respond to them with kindness and support.
Instead, many grandparents in these situations find that people judge them for the problems of their children or assume that they have pushed the parents aside in an attempt to control their grandchildren. Actually, this is rarely the case.
Changing this perception must begin with the grandparents.
They need to be honest with trusted pastors or other leaders in the church so they know about their unique circumstances and needs for support. It’s best to begin by sharing the general themes of each family situation with just a few people, rather than details. As relationships grow closer and more trust is built, more specifics can be shared.
Remember also, that Romans 12:4-8 tells us that we are all part of a body of believers and we need to lean on others for their gifts and we also need to share our gifts with others in the body.
Did you know that one of the best things a person can do when struggling or living with a lot of stress is to help someone else?
Rather than depleting our energy (as you might imagine) when we are using our gifts to serve the Lord and one another, we usually find that we start to feel less stressed and more energetic.
So, using his or her gifts to serve others can actually help an overwhelmed grandparent feel less overwhelmed.
How Others Can Help
As people in the church become aware of the needs of grandparents who are raising grandchildren, they need to offer them support and relief. These demands of raising children are at a time in life when they typically have less energy and need more help than they did when they were parents.
It is especially helpful when others are available to:
- Provide opportunities for them to get away and enjoy themselves while others care for their grandchild(ren) for a day, evening, or weekend.
- Help them find counseling support to cope with the unique demands of raising grandchildren.
- Be available to help when they are getting kids in and out of cars.
- Offer to accompany them to events to help keep an eye on the kids.
- Remember them on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Grandparent’s Day.
- Help group leaders for mothers’ groups be sensitive about including them in those groups.
- If there are many grandparents in a church raising their grandchildren, start a support group for them.
- Provide monetary resources for essential items, counseling, and other needs.
- Be intentional about inviting them to events that allow them to enjoy themselves.
- Set up prayer partners for them.
There are lots of questions that come up when grandparents are raising grandchildren so we, as a community of believers need to be there to help them find good answers.
One resource that can be very helpful is the Focus on the Family Counselor Support Line. You can request to talk with a counselor by calling 855-771-4357, M-F from 7 AM- 9 PM Central Standard Time.
Also, don’t forget to send your questions, or send grandparents with their questions to my Ask Dr. Joannie page.
If you have a question, it’s likely that someone else has the same question so when I answer it, I can help many people at once.