Grandparents parenting grandchildren have an edge on the rest of us. They're experienced parents and know the developmental needs of children through the years. They know what works with kids and have a perspective on child rearing that discriminates the big issues from the small. But when grandparents take on the role of parent for their grandchildren, there are special issues that can make it tough for them and the kids.
Other kinship care arrangements have their own joys and difficulties; but whatever the family connection, kinship care involves careful consideration and support for the emotional and practical issues kinship caregivers face.
Emotional Issues in Kinship Care
When a grandparent or other relative begins parenting a child, loss of the parent is the primary emotional hurdle the child faces. Whether the loss of the parent is due to death, substance abuse, or child abuse or neglect, the child will grieve deeply. He or she may very likely exhibit anger, depression, and the regression in development that accompanies children's grief. When the separation from the parent is involuntary, visitation stress and the child's divided loyalties make the kinship care arrangement a potential powder keg of conflict and emotional turmoil.
Practical Issues in Kinship Care
Many kinship care families face financial strain when bringing a child or children into the family. Financial support for kinship care varies widely and often families receive no financial assistance at all. They may face difficulties in meeting the educational and health needs of the child. Often, older family caregivers have their own health and age-related issues that make parenting difficult.
The most important thing that grandparents and other kinship caregivers can do to successfully parent their relative child is to build a support system. Don't try to do it all alone; you'll only cause yourself unnecessary stress and hardship. Start with your own support systems to help you cope with the emotional and practical issues you face. Your physician, your church, your community contacts, and others in your personal network will be happy to do their part to support you. Be open with them about the child's needs and your own and ask for their help.
You will likely find that other grandparents are parenting their grandchildren in your community. You may never have been involved with an advocacy or support group before, but you should consider it now. You'll gain information, inside tips, and friendships that will be invaluable to you in caring for the child and yourself. You may not think you need it now, but a shoulder to cry on and the encouragement of others who know what you face will be just what you need at times.
Finally, don't try to be everything to your child. Comb your support network for good babysitters. Stay in touch with your child's teacher, school counselor, and school administrators. Find a child development specialist, social worker, or therapist that you trust to consult for yourself and your child. To the extent that it is possible, encourage visitation or an appropriate relationship between your child and his parent. Enroll your child in church groups, clubs, and extracurricular activities. Expand your generational horizons by making friends with the parents of other same-age children.
Begin your kinship care journey by gathering information on the resources that are available to you. Find the legal, financial, health, and educational resources online; then, seek them out in your state and community. Learn about the emotional and social issues you face and find support in the mental health community. Then, enjoy the journey again and cherish the opportunity to guide your precious child through the magical childhood years.