Grandparents as Parents

Grandparents… grandma and grandpa, ice cream trips, Sunday visits, and sneaking candy. For some of us this scene is full of warm, fuzzy feelings. However, many do not experience the grandparenting scene in this way. For some, grandparenting really means “parenting” and it is not always sunshine and daisies. Over 40% of grandparents in the United States are responsible for taking care of their grandchildren and that number is growing. What does this mean? What does this look like?

Researchers have found that there are multiple areas of a grandparent’s life that are affeceted by having to raise grandchildren. Some of these include finances, physical and mental health, friendships, family relationships, and even the emotional well-being of the grandchildren. While these sound like typical things any parent may consider a stressor while raising children, they can be very different for a grandparent. For example, in later life a grandparent may solely be living off retirement money, not having previously saved for an additional mouth to feed. It is also very likely a grandparent will experience a decline in physical and mental abilities over time (regardless of age). This can make it harder to keep up with an active, developing child. Grandparents sometimes even have to give up regular social time with their friends to be able to tend to and take care of the child’s needs. These stressors can have consequences if ignored.

So how do grandparents deal with these stressors that can begin with little to no warning?

Here are some tips:

  • Social Support: Having other people as outlets for support is important for taking care of your grandchild, as well as yourself. Support can come from various people, including friends and other family members. Support like this can come from physical assistance, such as running errands for the grandparent, taking the children to practices or events, and the like. It can also come in forms of emotional support- a relative to talk to, a friend to lean on during tough times, and community support (churches, school communities, etc.).
  • Finances: This area will look different for every family and will vary from state to state. It may be difficult to gain medical insurance for a grandchild if there is not adequate legal status between grandparent and the grandchild. Some states allow grandparents to become foster parents, allowing the grandchild to be covered by a grandparent’s insurance. Check with your local community and state government regarding these laws, as well as utilizing government assisted programs, such as Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), reduced school lunches, and other community resources where needed. (For Missourians, check out this webpage for information:
  • Physical and Mental Health: Finding time to exercise regularly is crucial. Even if this means taking the grandchildren to the park, taking them hiking, or walking a nearby trail while the grandchild is at a school practice. Whatever this looks like for you, make time for it. Both grandparents and grandchildren benefit from keeping active, which boosts energy and helps lower anxiety.

It is also important to pay attention to emotional well-being, including depression and behavioral issues. Depending on what happened to require a grandparent to step in, low to severe trauma effects can linger for both the grandparent and the grandchild. Community resources, such as counseling and youth groups, may be needed to process emotions experienced by each individual. In addition, signs and symptoms of depression must not be ignored and are very commonly found after transitioning to living with a grandparent or taking care of a grandchild. Remember, over 40% of grandparents are in a similar situation…you are NOT alone. Take time for yourself, take time to reboot, and be sure any grandchildren involved also get the attention and help they need!

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Adcox, S. (2016, September 18). Grandparents Raising Grandchildren. Retrieved from:

Doley, R., Bell, R., Watt, B., & Simpson, H. (2015). Grandparents raising grandchildren: Investigating factors associated with distress among custodial grandparents. Journal of Family Studies21, 101-119.

Gerard, J. M., Landry-Meyer, L., & Roe, J. G. (2006). Grandparents raising grandchildren: The role of social support in coping with caregiving challenges. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development62, 359-383.

Sands, R. G., & Goldberg‐Glen, R. S. (2000). Factors associated with stress among grandparents raising their grandchildren. Family Relations49, 97-105.

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