Strains of grandparents raising grandchildren and how to cope

A grandmother helping her grandson to read.

Grandparenting used to be described as “pleasure without responsibility.” 

But not anymore.

Millions of children live with their grandparents and the number is rapidly growing.

What is behind this disturbing trend? 


Children whose parents divorce may end up living with their grandparents.

So may children who are neglected or abused by their parents.

The journal Child Welfare says that because of its immobilizing effects on addicted parents, ‘crack cocaine is creating a lost generation.’ 

There are also millions of children who are “parentless” as a result of abandonment, parental death, and mental illness.

Children who lose their mother early in life may also end up in the care of their grandparents.

Taking on child-rearing responsibilities during old age may be overwhelming.

Many people simply do not have the energy to keep a constant eye on small children.

Some grandparents are also taking care of their own aging parents.

Yet others are widowed or divorced and must manage without the support of a mate.

And many find that they are not prepared financially to take on such a load.

In one survey, 4 out of 10 custodial grandparents had incomes near poverty level.

Sally recalls:

The children were sick, I was forced to pay a lot of money for medicine. I got little financial help from the state.” 

One elderly woman recalls: “I had to use my retirement money to care for my grandkids.”

The Stresses and Strains


Not surprisingly, one study found that:

“caring for grandchildren generated considerable stress for grandparents, with 86 percent of the 60 grandparents in the study reporting feeling ‘depressed or anxious most of the time.’” 

Indeed, many report health problems. “It affected me physically and mentally” says Elizabeth, a woman who cared for her teenage granddaughter.

Willie Mae, suffering from heart trouble and high blood pressure, says: “My doctor believes it’s related to the stress of raising children.”

Many are unprepared for the change in life-style that raising grandchildren demands. “There will be times I can’t go places,” says one grandparent.

 “I would feel guilty . . . about leaving them with someone else, so rather than going somewhere or doing something, I don’t go or don’t do it.” 

Another described her personal time as “nonexistent.” Social isolation and loneliness are common.

One grandmother said:

In our age bracket most of our friends don’t have [young] children and as a result a lot of times we don’t accept invitations to go because our children [the grandchildren] are not invited.”

Also painful are the emotional pressures.

Says an article in U.S.News & World Report:

Many of them [grandparents] are racked by shame and guilt at the fact that their own children have failed as parents—and many blame themselves, wondering where they went wrong as parents. In order to provide safe and loving homes to their grandchildren, some must emotionally abandon their own abusive or drug-addicted children.”

Another survey reports:

More than one-fourth . . . said that their satisfaction with their marital relationship had declined as a result of providing care.” 

Husbands, in particular, often feel neglected as their wives shoulder the lion’s share of the child care. Some husbands feel that they simply cannot handle the pressure.

Says one woman of her husband: “He walked out on us. . . . I think he just felt trapped.”


Angry Children


The  U.S.News & World Report adds:

The stresses are compounded by the fact that some of the children [grandparents] inherit are among the most needy, most emotionally damaged and most angry in the nation.”

Consider Elizabeth’s granddaughter.
The child’s father literally abandoned her at the street corner where Elizabeth worked as a school crossing guard. “She is an angry child,” says Elizabeth.

 Sally’s grandchildren bear similar wounds.

“My grandson is bitter. He feels that nobody wants him.”

Having a loving father and mother is a child’s birthright.

Imagine how it feels to a child to be abandoned, neglected, or rejected by them!

Understanding these feelings can be the key to dealing patiently with children who develop behavioral problems.

For example, an abandoned child may resist your efforts to care for him.

Understanding the child’s fears and anxieties can help you to respond with compassion.

Perhaps acknowledging his fears and reassuring him that you will do all you can to take care of him will do much to quell his fears.

Coping With the Pressures


‘I’ve been feeling very hurt and sorry for myself. It’s just not fair for this to happen to us.’ So said one custodial grandparent. 

If you are in that situation, you may have similar feelings. 

But the matter is far from hopeless. 

For one thing, age may limit your physical energy, but age is an asset when it comes to wisdom, patience, and skill. 

Not surprisingly, a study found that “children reared solely by their grandparents fared quite well relative to children in families with one biological parent present.”

Do not be afraid to seek help. Often friends can be of assistance.

Don’t overlook assistance that may be obtainable from the government.

Interestingly, according to one survey of grandparents, “most do not know what is available or where to look for help.” 

Social workers and local agencies that assist the elderly may be able to direct you to helpful services such as grandparents raising grandchildren support groups or organisations that offer financial help. 

On the other hand, if you do not care for your grandchildren, what will happen to them? 

Could you handle the pressure of knowing that they are being cared for by others, perhaps even strangers? 

Many then may conclude that in spite of the difficulties involved, they have little choice but to take on the responsibility.

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