Grandparents who parent their grandchildren come in all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors. Some are healthy. Others aren’t. Some are financially stable. Others live on a fixed income. Many are married. And many are single. And some are in second and third marriages. But no matter the age, health condition, marital status, or finances, raising grandchildren is emotionally tough.
To help you and your church minister well to emotionally exhausted grandparents, we’ll look at reasons why parenting grandchildren is so emotionally taxing, emotional challenges faced by grandparents who raise their grandchildren, and ten ways your church can help.
Why parenting grandchildren is emotionally exhausting
1. They weren’t prepared for the responsibility
Grandparents may not have had time to prepare for the arrival of the grandchildren. This in itself causes stress, as the grandparents are trying to figure out how they feel about taking on the responsibility of the grandchildren. After all, they are used to spoiling the grandchildren and seeing them only on short visits. Now the grandchildren will not be leaving, and the grandparents will be on duty 24/7 every day of the year. There will be no more sending the grandkids home when grandma and grandpa get exhausted and want some peace and quiet.
2. They didn’t want the responsibility
A step-grandparent explained it this way.
We just found out my husband’s son has had his kids taken away from him. The state called and wants us to bring these kids to live with us. The grandchildren have been in a drug-infested home and have been neglected. Since meth [methamphetamine] was found in the home, the kids can’t bring anything with them. Everything they owned, even their blankets, has been confiscated. Here’s the deal, I raised my kids in a Christian home. I’m sorry his ex-wife didn’t raise his kids that way. I raised my kids to be good parents. I didn’t marry him to raise his grandkids. To be honest with you, I am angry because I don’t want to have to raise little children that I don’t know and to which I have no emotional attachment.
This step-grandparent, like many step-grandparents, has a lot of emotional issues to overcome if she and her husband are going to provide an emotionally and spiritually healthy home environment. But step-grandparents aren’t the only ones who feel as if their grandchildren have been forced upon them.
Many grandparents parenting again have shared that it is a lonely existence. Most of their friends fall by the wayside because the grandparents now have a different lifestyle. They don’t have as much free time to do the things they used to do with their friends. Many will have to resign from positions in your church because of time restraints. Tell them you understand and it’s okay, as they are now ministering to their own family. God will bless them.
3. The grandchildren have experienced trauma
Trauma and loss affect many of these little ones. Even after the grandparents are able to help the children get control of their behavior and have provided a stable home life, issues can crop up. Here is one grandfather’s story:
My son divorced his first wife. He remarried and brought my grandson into the new marriage. His new wife never treated my grandson well. My son cut off all contact with us, and we didn’t see our grandson for years. One day I was driving past an elementary school and I thought I saw my grandson on the playground. I called Child Protective Services, identified myself, and found out my grandson had been taken away from my son. They didn’t have my contact information, so I had never been contacted.
After several months of wrangling, I was able to bring my grandson home with me. He had experienced some horrific abuse over the years. He was run over by a truck. He had been burned and admitted to the ICU at one point. I was so overwrought at what this precious child had experienced.
One day at school his grandson had gotten so out of control that the school called the grandfather to pick up his grandson. The teacher said that the child had been happy when he came to the classroom, but within a few minutes he began screaming and started throwing things. She said they had an exciting day planned and were celebrating Mexican heritage and had salsa and chips for the kids. What the teacher didn’t know was that when the child was three years old, the stepmom had punished him repeatedly by pouring Tabasco sauce on his tongue. When the child smelled the Tabasco sauce, his mind went back to the trauma and child abuse, and he flipped out. Now the grandparents had to again grieve what had happened to their grandson when he was younger.
The emotional toll of parenting grandchildren
One of the issues that makes grandparenting these kids difficult is the emotional toll. There is always a reason grandchildren have to live with the grandparents. Many times the reason brings great stress to the grandparents. Here are emotional issues grandparents may encounter when grandchildren are thrust upon them:
- Grieving the loss of their own child or the divorce of their adult child
- Parental failure and guilt: They may experience guilt that somehow the divorce, or whatever situation resulted in the parent not being able to parent the child, was their fault because they weren’t model parents themselves
- Having to put their wants, such as retirement, on hold
- Resentment at not wanting to parent full time again
- How to cope with caring for a child at my age
- How to deal with being both a grandparent and a parent to the child
- Just wanting to be the “fun” grandparent who gets to send the child home at the end of the day
We can also add to the emotional price of raising grandchildren the following:
- Loss of their dreams for their own child
- They may feel overwhelmed with all of the responsibilities
- They may feel sad/depressed
- Some grandparents will feel extreme anger at their own child for not being a better parent to the grandchildren
- Some will be embarrassed about their family’s situation; they may not want to talk about it or let others know they are struggling
- May have problems concentrating, organizing, and problem solving due to the extreme stress parenting at their age brings
- Some elderly will just not want to adapt to this new family structure and will feel extreme stress at feeling like they have to provide for their grandchildren
- Relationships with other family members may be affected
10 ways your church can help
There are many ways the church can assist grandparents who are overwhelmed and struggling emotionally. Here are some ideas that you and/or a care ministry leader could offer and do, or ask other lay leaders to put into place.
- Look for these grandparents in your congregation. If anyone hears about people taking in their grandchildren, make sure a lay leader reaches out to them who is willing to walk alongside them and keep abreast of their emotional struggles and concerns.
- Have a care ministry leader or other lay leader pray with them. This, combined with step one, will go a long way in letting the grandparents know they are valued and remembered.
- Provide a day of respite care for the grandparents, especially in the case of a single grandparent. Ask other people in the congregation, perhaps a family with children the same ages as the grandchildren, to take the kids for a Saturday or for a weekend.
- Organize a fishing trip for the grandpa to go on with other men his age, and encourage other women to invite the grandma to a day at a spa. Provide free child care.
- Provide parenting classes or resources for parenting traumatized children.
- Provide tips or classes on new technologies.
- Find a parent with children the same ages to help the grandparents get the grandchildren registered in school and purchase school supplies. Elderly grandparents may simply not know what some items on a school list are.
- Teach or provide resources to your lay leadership about the effects of trauma on children.
- Teach lay leaders how to mentor and love these grandparents and grandchildren.
- When you preach on parenting, be sure to address and affirm grandparents who parent their grandchildren. Here are some examples of Scriptures that can be passed on to the grandparents (emphasis added):
- Psalm 103:17 “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children …” (ESV)
- Proverbs 17:6 “Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers.” (ESV)
- Psalm 145:4 “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.” (ESV)
- Psalm 78:4b “… we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.”
Grandparents can make a huge difference in stopping generational divorce and other issues such as addictions and poor life-living choices. Churches can walk alongside the grandparent-headed families and help them succeed.