Life Lessons: Grandparents raising grandchildren

Posted: 5:00 AM EDT Jul 08, 2013

AARP reports that nationwide, more than 2.5 million grandparents are raising their grandchildren. It's a trend that has been growing for the last 40 years.

Experts say it's a situation that raises unique challenges.

Psychologists say being a parent is hard enough but finding yourself a parent again when you're in your 60s can be even more difficult.

Sixty-six-year-old Sandra Easterling of Allentown knows all about it. She is raising her 8-year-old grandson Sean.

"You're a grandparent. The grandchildren are supposed to come for visits and then they go and then you lead your life. This is a life altering experience," says Sandra.

She says it is not what she imagined doing at this age but she doesn't dwell on that. She thinks instead about what's best for Sean.

"The grandparent in me sometimes gets in the way. You want to spoil him but that's where I have to be a little more disciplined."

Rick Daugherty, executive director of the Lehigh County Senior Center, says he is seeing more grandparents involved in raising grandchildren for a variety of reasons including parental death, substance abuse, and mental health issues.

"I think the economy is hurting still for working class families and they need parents and grandparents to help them get by," says Daugherty.

Sandra runs a support group for other grandparents. She feels they need help understanding and handling their roles as care takers..especially in difficult circumstances.

The support group meets at the Lehigh County Senior Center on Elm Street in Allentown.

Sandra is taking the summer off, but monthly meetings will resume in September.

For information, you can call the Senior Center at 610 437-3700.

AARP offers these tips:

-- Set up a daily routine of mealtimes, bedtime, and other activities so that the children have some predictability in their lives.

-- Help your grandchildren to feel that they are "home" by making room for them and their belongings.

Your home needs to be welcoming, safe, and child-friendly.
-- Work on communication skills. Talk to your grandchildren, and make sure that the children know that they can always talk to you.

-- Practice positive discipline that emphasizes education, not punishment, and that rewards good behavior with praise.

-- Set up a few rules, and explain the rules to the children. Then, enforce them consistently.

-- Find shared activities. Building new relationships can be difficult. Sometimes, it helps to find things that you can do with your grandchildren to nurture your relationship and to make them feel secure and happy in their new home.

-- Read. Children love to hear stories, and even older children may surprise you by sitting quietly as you read aloud. Children who see you read have a better chance of becoming readers themselves.

-- Get computer savvy. If you don't have your own computer, use the one at the public library. The library may have classes or other free help for you. You'll find lots of things that you and your grandchildren can do on the computer, from games to school research.

-- Join a group. There are many local support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren, and a number of these groups also provide activities for the children. You might also find welcoming groups at your place of worship or in the local schools or library.

-- Take up a sport or other outdoor activity. Children of all ages need to be active. Physical activity may help your grandchildren feel better and develop a healthy lifestyle, and it can be an important stress reliever for you.

-- Taking care of yourself. If you're feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and unhappy, you are not going to be able to provide the best care for your grandchildren. It's important that you take care of yourself and not allow yourself to be overwhelmed by your parental responsibilities.

Here are some suggestions:

-- Find a support group—either a group specifically for grandparents raising grandchildren or some other support group where you can share your challenges with others who will understand.

-- Talk to someone. This could be a friend or relative or a professional, such as a counselor, family doctor, or someone at your church or temple. Unburdening yourself can be a stress reliever.

-- Take a break. A short time away from your grandchildren may give you some time to relax. Look for a trusted adult who can babysit or take over while you're out.

-- Take a parenting class. A class may help you to feel more comfortable with your status as a caregiver for young children. It will also provide resources in the form of your teacher and the other students in the class.

-- Learn to say "no." You don't have time to do everything. Learn to make priorities, and eliminate the unnecessary tasks in your life.

AARP runs a Grandparent Information Center, where you can sign up for their newsletter, check their message board, and search for a local support group.