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Bringing up grandchildren

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Once our own children are grown, we all have a tendency to look back upon those early years with rose-tinted glasses. The years of caring for small children, which seemed such a challenge at the time, can seem like a golden era once you are in the safe position of knowing that it is over and is never going to recur. But what about grandchildren?

For most people, they are a joyful addition to later life. They can be great fun and are to be adored and thoroughly spoilt before being handed back to their parents. But, for an increasing number of grandparents, the commitment that they bring to their grandchildren is far greater than this. For one reason or another, many grandparents can find themselves bringing up their grandchildren full-time; they are unexpectedly being thrust back into the challenges of parenthood, but this time with some additional issues to face.

grandparents: How to play an active role

How did this happen?

You may not have been planning upon this eventuality at this point in your life. But various circumstances might lead to your children not being able to look after their brood full-time. Parents may face physical or mental illness for example. In some cases, there might even be substance misuses problems or problems with their own parenting skills; increasingly, social services departments are turning to family members to take on the care of children when their own parents are not suitable to do so for various reasons. It is now recognised that in many cases, this gives the children a greater sense of belonging to a family, and therefore promises a better long-term outcome for them, than other forms of substitute care, such as non-family foster carers.

Whatever the reason, if you have stepped in (or found yourself reluctantly conscripted) to care for your grandchildren, you do need to allow yourself some time to adjust and come to terms with your own feelings. Alongside the feelings of loving them and wanting to protect them, you may find that you feel angry, resentful and nervous about the responsibility that you are going to have to shoulder – especially since it has happened at a time when your contemporaries are finally enjoying some freedom. These are all normal and understandable reactions, so allow yourself to feel them and expect that it will take time for the negatives to be balanced out by the positives.

Grandmother with child

Looking after yourself

There are no two ways about it, you are not as young, or as fit, as you once were. Small children can tax the energy of parents in their twenties and thirties, so unless you are actually superhuman, the whole thing is going to take a greater toll upon you. You are going to have to look after yourself, and that means plenty of rest, a good diet and some time away from the grandchildren for you to unwind. Enlist other family members to help out, or ask older grandchildren to help for short periods with younger ones. If your arrangement has come about because of social services’ involvement, then you must make your need for respite absolutely clear from the beginning, so that it can be built in to the arrangements. This might take the form of paid nursery care or baby-sitting, to allow you to recoup your energy and have some time for yourself. If you feel guilty about considering your own needs, that is something you are really going to have to get over if you are going to survive this experience – you cannot care for the children if you are tired, and overwhelmed, so try to see time spent on yourself as an investment in their well-being.

Getting support

You may already have some friends who are in the same situation as you, in which case, you have a ready made support network and perhaps you can even help each other out with the kids. But what if you are the only one in your circle of friends in this position? Your situation might be daunting, and if you are having to deal with officialdom in the form of social workers and courts, you may feel completely at sea. Not to mention the fact that there is a financial cost to bringing up small children, and on a limited retirement income this may be a great worry. But where can you turn for help? The Grandparents’ Association is a particularly good source of help. They have information on every aspect of being a grandparent, including special sections for those bringing up their grandchildren, and advice about financial help and dealing with the legalities of the situation. They have a helpline if you need to talk anything over. So don’t go it alone, get some expert help – start by consulting their website.

 

 

 

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About Paula Hendry

About Paula Hendry

Paula Hendry is a freelance consultant in the field of social work. She has been a social worker for twenty five years, and specialises in mental health. Paula has two children and writes in her spare time (which is virtually non-existent.)

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