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Tips for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

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Grandparents raising grandchildren is an age-old practice and continues to be common in today’s society. This article offers helpful advice to these grandparents as they parent their grandchildren in the 21st century to avoid barriers to success for both the grandchild and grandparent within these families.

Grandparent-led households develop for many reasons. Although commendable, the positive and negative factors associated with this arrangement, including the grandparents’ physical and mental health as well as their commitment and loyalty to their families, should be considered.

I interviewed 12 African American grandmothers raising their grandchildren as parents regarding their perceptions of school-based assistance available to support them in meeting the educational needs of their grandchildren.  Of the six themes and two subthemes that emerged, barriers to services that were repeatedly mentioned included lack of adequate finances, access to care, transportation, lack of available resources, limited grandparent educational attainment, and technological advances.

As a result of the study’s findings, I have compiled a list of general grandparent caregiver tips which may be useful as they raise their grandchildren. The practice of grandparents raising grandchildren has existed throughout the history of the United States. However, this phenomenon has gained increasing amounts of attention as the number of children raised in these households continues to rise.

Although the tips offered are generic in nature and may be used by any grandparent raising grandchildren, they are based upon information collected as a result of a research study conducted with African American grandmother caregivers within a rural county in North Carolina.

  • Be proactive.  Meet with agencies and school officials to prepare for the arrival of your grandchildren into your home. Complete as much paperwork as possible to ensure their arrival and new routine occur as seamlessly as possible.
  • Network with other grandparents raising their grandchildren. Regular conversations with other grandparents who are also raising their grandchildren can provide a great support as you are able to encourage and give confidence to each other.
  • Research. Become familiar with resources in your area. If none are available to meet your family’s needs, advocate for change.
  • Form relationships with your grandchildren’s schools. Be an active presence in the schools, volunteering and making sure to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school-based activities whenever possible.
  • Regularly attend doctor’s appointments. Make time to ensure your physical and emotional needs are met. Be in touch with your health and feelings. Take time to get adequate amounts of healthy food, rest, and exercise.
  • Take a time out.  It is normal to feel overwhelmed and anxious at times. Arrange for respite care services from friends, neighbors, or agencies before they are needed.  That way, the resources will be available when contacted in the moment.
  • Take time for yourself. Frequently indulge in activities that you enjoy. Make time to relax, and participate in fun things that make you smile and bring you happiness.
  • Have a sense of humor. Parenting does not come with a handbook, and grandparenting is no different. Laugh often.
  • Apply for financial assistance if available. Meet with the local social services agencies and others to apply for financial assistance to help defray childrearing costs.
  • Listen to your grandchildren. The adjustments may have been difficult for you, and even more so for your grandchildren.  Allow them time and space to talk to you about how they are feeling. Seek help if needed, for your grandchildren and yourself, to cope with these feelings. 
  • Enjoy the journey. You are to be commended for raising your grandchildren, regardless of the situation. Enjoy small victories and celebrate your and their accomplishments along the way.

Grandparents assume these responsibilities due to varied reasons, including parental incarceration, death, substance abuse, unemployment, parental abandonment, neglect, and HIV/AIDS-related complications. Regardless of how or why grandparents began assuming the caregiver role for their grandchildren, they are in need of specialized resources and assistance.

Although grandparents are commended for taking on this responsibility, their self-care should also be emphasized.  Normal chronological development, lack of resources, and being at greater risk of disease are factors which should be considered within this population.  Their experiences, passion, and willingness to guide another generation should be utilized and not overlooked.

Written by Latonia Johnson

Dr. Latonia Johnson currently serves as a Counselor at a non-profit organization which provides services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Previous professional positions include adjunct professor, school social worker and mental health clinician. As a School Social Worker, she became disturbingly aware of the lack of resources for this population within the rural setting. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from Norfolk State University and Ph.D. in Human Services from Capella University.

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