Grandparents House is a Sanctuary
Families go through a lot of changes. There are divorces, loss of a loved one, illness, accident, family additions (newborn, step parent or step sibling), relocation, job loss, alcohol and drug abuse, and family violence to name a few.
Grandchildren need to know they have a safe place to go when their world is in turmoil, seems turned inside out and just plain unfair. A grandparent’s house can be a haven of loving comfort, where a grandchild can get away from a distressing situation for a short while. Any family crisis can be devastating to a child. The children often feel they caused the distressing event in someway. Their sense of security is threatened, they feel the situation is controlling their young life, and they have no say. The child’s confidence may be shaken and they may feel lost or abandoned. A child needs nurturing to get through a family crisis or unsettling event. You as their grandparent can offer and provide the comfort zone they so desperately seek.
Inform Your Grandchildren that You are Always There for Them
Most important let your child and grandchild know you are there for them. Tell them from time to time that your door is always open. Let them know you want them to come to you in good times and bad. Even if you live far away, you can still keep in close contact by phone or internet. Being available for emotional support, even if not in person, is always a comfort to those in need. When a family crisis happens, offer to take your grandchild for a few days until the situation has calmed down. Your child will be grateful for the support system, knowing their child is with you in a calmer environment. Your child will then be able to do whatever they need to do without stressing about their children, hopefully ending the crisis sooner. Again if you live far apart, offer to drive half way to pick up your grandchild, or offer to pay half for a transportation ticket if your finances allow.
Treat Your Grandchildren Tenderly
Initiate conversations, let your grandchild know things may not be the same and assure them everything will be better soon. Tell your grandchild their secrets are safe with you. Listen intently when your grandchild expresses concerns or feelings. Allow your grandchild the freedom to speak. Try hard not to interrupt or interpret what they are trying to say. Instead, ask easy questions for clarity. Repeat what your grandchild says in an understanding way, this helps them to open up, expand, and express a little bit more of what they are feeling. Do not dismiss whatever they are feeling, just like adults, children have feelings they can not control or understand. Always finish a conversation with a happy thought, a hug, gentle touch or kiss on the forehead. Use whatever loving gestures are comfortable, but not overwhelming. Remember your grandchild is in a tender emotional state and needs tender care.
Spend Time Together
Spend some extra time doing the things they really enjoy. Take your grandchild to a fun place like an amusement park, zoo, or for a boat ride. Create something with your grandchild, a card, cookies, a mess, a story, a card house, an indoor garden, or anything their imagination inspires. Watch their favorite movie, complete with popcorn and oversized drinks. Stargaze with them – wishing on stars – another way for your grandchild to express their needs. Sleep in sleeping bags on the floor, okay you can sleep in the bed – but let them stay in your room near you. Read a story you haven’t read to them for a long time, even if they are teenagers they will remember the good feelings from when they were young. Your grandchild needs to feel special and sometimes recreating a special memory is just the thing to lighten their mood. For comfort in distressing times – I like to read the Three Trees Story to my grandchild. It’s a wonderful story showing that dreams eventually become reality, not always as we wish, but somehow glorious after all.
Reassure Your Grandchild(ren)
Tell them they are loved, name the people that love them. Tell your grandchild what your favorite things about them are and why. Tell your grandchild that no matter what happens, they are not to blame. It may be the end of something but there is also a new beginning. Help your grandchild explore the possible positive opportunities to come. Give them something to look forward to or to reach for. Tell them a story about something awful that happened when you were young, let them know how you felt, and that something good happened soon after. Keep telling them everything will be okay.
If a family situation is totally out of control, suggest family intervention or gather information on possible places to go for help and present it to your child. Offer to set up appointments and go with them to get the assistance they need. Very important do not downgrade or belittle the hurtful person. Always be a gentle teacher to your grandchildren. Here are some ways to assure that you become a gentle teacher of your grandchildren.
Pay Attention to Family Rules and Discipline
A good discipline pact allows grandparents to handle minor discipline problems. Otherwise a grandparent’s attempt to smooth things over may end up undermining family discipline.
Update Your Parenting Skills
To avoid clashes over discipline ask your grandchild’s parents to explain how they correct unacceptable behavior. Practical questions like, What should I do if my two-year-old granddaughter pitches a tantrum in the supermarket? Does ignoring the tantrum work better than a swat on the behind?
Ask for a review of family rules governing television viewing, use of the family PC, completing homework and inviting friends over. As an unsuspecting grandparent you may believe your grandchild is in her room with a classmate researching a homework assignment on the Web. When instead they are watching forbidden TV or exploring banned Internet sites.
Emphasize Your Values
As grandparents you have a set of values to transmit to your grandchildren. Ones that worked for you, like respect, honesty and responsibility. Grandparents who keep a spiritual perspective as a vital part of their lives open a window for their grandchildren that allows them to catch a glimpse of all that life was meant to be. The influence of a grandpa or grandma who never misses Sunday worship, or who cuddles his grandchild in his lap and shares a favorite Bible story can’t be measured.
With gentle teaching, reassure the child in every way possible. If special safety procedures need to be carried out, do so in a calm manner without speaking excessively about the abuser. Do not have adult discussions about the abuser, harmful person, the evils of divorce or anything else adults are dealing with in front of the child. But do tell your grandchild what the future plans are, what steps need to be taken and when! Reassuringly answer their questions, as honestly as possible, on a level they can understand.
Some Emotional Issues and Methods to Cope
Here is a summary of the emotions you may experience as a grandparent caring their grandchildren.
Grandparents who see their golden years ripped away by new parenting responsibilities often respond in anger followed by depression. Depression follows anger when there is no way out except to abandon personal plans in order to raise their grandchildren.
Fear of Separation
The love grandparents feel for their grandchildren is pure and precious, and the fear of separation is heartbreaking. To lose custody or guardianship of neglected, abused or abandoned grandchildren is a bad dream come true. Experts say that it is difficult for grandparents to gain unchallenged permanent legal custody of their grandchildren.
Fear of Growing Old
The dream of a comfortable and relaxed retirement vanishes with the prospect of parenting grandchildren. And as responsibilities compound, grandparents’ anxiety increases over the thought of inadequate health care, long term hospitalization and life threatening diseases.
Fear of Being Poor
For grandparents who are already squeezed financially, the care of grandchildren increases the pinch. Valid questions are, What happens if we run out of money? Will I still be able to care for my grandchildren? Will I be a burden to my children?
In order to provide a safe and loving home for their grandchildren, some grandparents must emotionally abandon their own abusive or drug-addicted children. They are ashamed and guilty because their own child may have failed as parents, and often berate themselves for being bad parents.
You may feel guilt because deep down you don’t want to raise your grandchild. Or you’re ashamed because your child is a poor parent, and you blame yourself for his or her failure.
The stress you experience from anger, fear and guilt is long term, no relief stress. It wears on your physical and emotional health. Constant stress affects your blood pressure, your sleep and your relationships. It’s the kind of stress grandparents who parent live with every day.
Reducing Everyday Stress
- When you are consumed by anger, fear or guilt, stress builds to a high level. Find a close friend to confide in or a support group where you can release your feelings
- For legal or custody problems contact an organization familiar with the custody laws in your state.
- Stress surfaces when job, church duties or other obligations interfere with your grandparenting. Cut out the ones that someone else can do.
- If your stress is job related you may be a victim of too many responsibilities and too little time to manage them. Start delegating duties and push for extra help.
The grand keys to helping children through a family crisis are love, security, reassurance, overcoming stress, and a positive future outlook. You as a grandparent can create a comfort zone for your grandchild with all these keys. You as the grandparent – have the knowledge and life experiences to help your family, especially your grandchildren to regain self-esteem, security, and hope.