Raising a grandchild takes a great deal of effort. It’s a crazy, unconventional, and challenging role for sure. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way while raising my granddaughter.
You are not responsible for your grandchild’s relationship with her/his parent.
You are responsible to encourage, provide and care for it as far as making visiting times available to the best of your ability. Providing or making arrangements for a safe comfortable visiting site. Setting up regular times for consistency sake. Being flexible when you can but also recognizing when you can’t for the sake of you own sanity. Guiding the play with pre-planned activities if needed. Being mindful of positive conversations and close by for support whether for your grandchild or the biological parent.
It’s really hard to see your grandchild struggling with the reality of having an absent (or partially absent) biological parent. Be loving, empathetic and honest. Give them small doses of information as it comes up and they ask those hard questions. Remember you are not responsible for their relationship with the beloved biological parent. Give away that responsibility you feel (and you will feel it) it’s not yours.
If you’re like me you want to sooth their breaking heart, fix it. You’ll only make it harder on them in the long run. It’s a reality that is best discovered sooner rather than later, in small doses, age appropriately, as they are ready.
Stop blaming yourself, It’s not your fault what kind relationship the biological parent’s have with your grandchild.
I was able to breathe again when my child counselor assured me that their relationship is not mine, rather the best thing that I can do is to make available time for regular visits or phone calls and help setup an available time for both the child and the parent to bond.
I still need to remind myself of this statement weekly
Sticking to a visit / timeframe – avoiding hyper vigilance.
My counselor advised strongly that when arranging a visit from a biological parent, a child should not be kept waiting. This is extremely disappointing for a child and at a very young age they don’t understand how to handle that emotion. They will also blame themselves for the situation.
Set a contract with the biological parent at the beginning and stick to them, here are some of our rules for visiting hours.
Set a timeframe, or what I would call a “start and stop time.” Give parents a timeframe, for example, they are supposed to meet for a visit with the child between 3pm-5pm, if the parent can’t make it at that particular time, then I have other activities lined up instead. When my granddaughter was very young I didn’t tell her until an hour or so ahead of time when her biological parent confirmed the visit. If the intended visit couldn’t happen we simply baked cookies, took a walk or brought out the play doh!
There also should not be any surprises. Surprises sound like fun, but not in this case. The child can become hyper-vigilant. You can’t allow a child to wonder when his/her parents will show up at your doorstep, or even with a phone call. It should always be scheduled beforehand. This allows you to have structure and stability in your home and you can prepare the child emotionally for a visit or call.
Again you can only tell the child that the biological parent will be there if it’s going to happen for sure. You can’t have the child wait and wonder only to find out that they’re never going to show up. At a young age, preparing for the visit an hour before is plenty of time. As the child gets older 6 -8 years of age they will need more time to prepare for the visit. If the biological parent cancels out this is one of those small doses of reality that can be practiced. Hard I know, but they need to understand it’s not their fault. Also that it’s not your fault. You need to remember that the relationship between the grandchild and their biological parent isn’t your responsibility. Then go make cookies, take a walk, see a movie, or break out the play doh.
Grandparents stick together.
Another thing I’ve learned from counselors. Especially for me (us) to learn how to work with our daughter, the biological parent. You, the parents (or grandparents) need to stick together! Don’t allow yourselves to be pitted against each other, check with your spouse and stay on the same page. Set up an agreement between yourselves to not allow anyone to pull you apart. If one of you gets a request for something, check with your “other half” before agreeing to anything. Good, bad or indifferent be honest about situations work through them and stay on the same page. Avoid triangulation like your life depends on it.
Best case scenario
In your own situation what is that best case scenario? That the biological parents will work their way through their problems and issues and then be ready to take control again? Yes that’s mine as well. Be hopeful but above all be realistic.
Your counselor will walk you through how to prepare for that lovely reunion. Again with exercises and discussions so the biological parent and grandchild are working to get to know one another again.
The overwhelming majority of “best case scenario’s” though doesn’t work out like that. It’s that your grandchild understands the situation, knows how much you love and support him/her and becomes an amazing adult.
Raising my granddaughter not only requires physical strength, but a good solid dose of pure emotional stability. The fact that it has been 7 years, I have fully accepted at this point that I’ll be her primary guardian for life. With everything that has happened in the past few years, we try to prepare our grand for the future.
My counselor’s advice at this stage? It’s time to give her a sense of belonging and stability. She doesn’t need to wonder what’s next, her life is with us. To provide her everything she may need to work through her confusion or wonderment over her situation. Eventually her own counseling. This can provide her with all the tools she may need to grow into a well adjusted, amazing adult.
I still hope that the ultimate “best case scenario” will work out in the end and I’ll always watch for any signs that it’s in the works.