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MAGAZINE / March-April 2007 / Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

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Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

By Helen Hunter, ACSW, CMSW

Today's Caregiver magazine - Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Grandparents raising grandchildren have received considerable attention in recent years. Many observers perceive grandparent care to be a growing phenomenon. Nearly six million children and 1.5 million grandparents currently live in grandparent-grandchild households. One in five of the older caregivers lives below the poverty level. One million are single grandmothers. These households face unique daily challenges. Besides exhaustion, these grandparents face an overwhelming array of emotional and social concerns as they raise their grandchildren. Grandparents might feel angry or resentful, since they were looking forward to leisure time in retirement and must now put those plans on hold. They might feel guilty and feel responsible because their child cannot care for their own children. There are also feelings of stress: are the decisions being made for the grandchildren the best ones? Many grandparents also feel lonely, since many of their peers are not in the same role and don’t truly understand the demands that they face daily.

Social issues may include dating, drugs, alcohol, emotional and health problems, learning difficulties, financial strains, legal questions and social isolation. When coupled with their own health and financial issues, grandparents find themselves faced with sacrificing their own needs for the benefit of the grandchildren, so that they can have a better life.

Where, you may ask, is the middle generation, the children of the older generation and the parents of the grandchildren? They may be physically around, but cannot provide the daily emotional and financial care needs to their children, due to physical or mental illness, substance abuse, economic troubles, recent separation or divorce or unemployment. They may be incarcerated, have left the area altogether or be deceased. The older generation, the grandparent, assumes the responsibility for daily care, as a natural answer to helping family members in need.

As an answer to the ever-growing number of grandparents raising grandchildren, a number of agencies have developed programs to assist the older generation face the challenges of this demanding caregiving role. A phone call to the local Area Agency on Aging or the local Grandparent Resource Center can provide information on financial, childcare and legal assistance, as well as parenting tips. Grandparents should also consider joining a support group specifically meant for those serving as the main caregivers of their grandchildren. Just knowing that others are faced with the same daily challenges can be very comforting. Support group participants not only make new friends and learn from others, but also gather a wealth of information and services available in the community to help them cope with their new parenting role. Connecting with a faith community can provide grandparents with services, such as respite care, child care and transportation, which can be very helpful, particularly in times of need.

Respite care is especially important for anyone who is serving as a caregiver, but even more so for an older person, who may have their own health issues to consider. Paying attention to their own health is critical for caregivers – if the caregiver becomes ill, who will then care for the dependent person? There are a number of formal services which provide respite care, and grandparents can also rely on other family members, friends or neighbors to give them a break from the daily demands of care. Finding time to get away is crucial to “recharging batteries,” so that the grandparent feels refreshed and is in the best optimum mental health needed to serve as a caregiver.

Taking time to eat a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and getting regular check-ups from the doctor are paramount to making sure that the grandparent is in the best, optimum physical health. It is also important to remember to have fun! Humor is the spice of life. Everyone feels happier and healthier when they have a positive attitude and can find laughter and humor in daily life. Try it – you’ll see what I mean!!

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