There are many factors that lead to grandparents raising grandchildren. There are just as many factors that make this a hard row to hoe at this stage of your life. We offer these five tips to help set the stage for your family’s success in this kinship care journey.

1. Educate yourself about raising grandchildren.

Work with your grandchildren’s caseworker(s) to learn as much as you can about the hurdles that the kids might be facing because they cannot live with Mom or Dad. Find out where local foster parent trainings are and take the courses. Ask the caseworker or other foster care professionals for book recommendations that will help you understand issues of trauma, neglect, pre-natal exposure and attachment. Creating a Family also has an online education program specifically for foster parent and kinship providers.

For grandparents raising grandchildren after being out of the “parenting game” for a long while, it’s important to learn what resources and supports your local community can offer you. The landscape of what is offered now likely looks very different than when you were raising your kids. If your caseworker cannot help you access these, join a local foster parent support group. Meeting with them regularly will provide support and education that you need to help your family thrive.

2. Find your “someone.”

The old adage “it takes a village” is so very true with the unique dynamics of kinship foster care or adoption. You likely were not planning to be raising your grandchildren at this stage of life. Working through your new reality means that you need a safe person with whom to process those feelings. If your grandkids are struggling with all the changes, you need a trustworthy, experienced sounding board to help you help them. Having a couple of safe friends who can practically support you with occasional meals, child care, and even mentoring for your grandchildren will be an invaluable support to you.

In-person and online support groups are both valuable tools in building your village. They serve different purposes but the value of gathering with others is that you are with folks who “get it.” It staves off isolation that comes from being back in the child-rearing season of life when other friends have moved on.

Raising a grandchild brings with it many joys and many trials

3. Take care of yourself while raising grandchildren.

Closely related to the previous tip, engaging in self-care is crucial to maintaining a healthy environment for your grandkids to heal and thrive. Find what feeds your spirit, separate from your parenting, and do it. Get away for a hike, find a book club, take up gardening, or join a gym. Make sure you keep yourself at the top of the list, prioritizing your health to be sure that you can be at your best for these precious grandkids who need you.

4. Keep communication open and honest.

This tip might be harder to implement, especially if your grandkids’ birth parent(s) is your own child.  But it’s as vital to your mental and emotional health as it is to your grandchildren’s health. When interacting with your grandchildren’s parent(s), be open, honest and clear. You might find these resources helpful for building (or re-building) a relationship with the birth parent(s). If you are having a hard time, reach out to a caseworker or from a trusted third party like a clergy or counselor.

Keep the channels of communication wide open with the kids’ educational team as well. You will all need to work together to help the child succeed in school. Many kids who have experienced the losses your grandkids are facing will struggle in school and in their new home life. The school can offer you supports as long as you keep them in the loop about what is going on at home and how it is affecting them at school.

Grandparents raising grandchildren are often unacknowledged helpers in society

5. Have fun raising your grandkids!

One of the most important things to remember is that these kids need the joy and simplicity of childhood restored. Find the things that make you laugh together. Take time to relax and unwind together. Take up hobbies or activities that will help you forge attachments. There will be tremendous healing for you all in being able to revel in child-like joy and wonder again. This might look different for you now than it did when you were raising your children the first time. But if you can let the children lead the way in exploring things that feel fun to them, you might have fun yourself in the learning!

Other Creating a Family Resources You Might Find Helpful:

Image credit: John Havery Samuel; G.R. Allen; Alfred Grupstra