By Raising Children Network
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Grandmother hugging granddaughter Yu

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In 2011 there were approximately 46 000 Australian families where grandparents were raising their grandchildren.
When you have primary care of your grandchild, you have less time for yourself. But the upside is knowing you’re giving your grandchild a safe and caring home. Support from family, friends, professionals and the community can help you in your role as grandparent carer.

Becoming a grandparent carer

Becoming a grandparent carer isn’t easy – and often it isn’t even a choice. Many grandparents don’t expect a family crisis that leaves them to raise their grandchild. Although it might feel like it, you’re not alone – it happens to thousands of Australian families.

When your grandchild comes to live with you, it could be a short-term thing or it could be permanent. Sometimes you might not know how long you’ll be caring for your grandchild.

You might have had no idea that there was a problem in your grandchild’s family until you got a call from the police or child protection authority to let you know your grandchild was in need of care. This can be a big shock.

Some grandparent carers say it’s as if their whole world has been turned upside down.

Video Becoming a grandparent carer

In this short video, grandparents talk about becoming full-time carers for their grandchildren. They talk about deciding to take on the role, their feelings, the impact on their lives and the challenges they face. A family support worker talks about how becoming a full-time carer can be a shock and often happens in traumatic circumstances.

Your feelings when you become a grandparent carer

When you become a grandparent carer, it can be a time of very mixed feelings.

You might find it hard to go from being the ‘fun’ grandparent to a grandparent carer who has to set rules and boundaries for a child. Accepting this change can take time, and you might like to talk to family, friends or a counsellor about it.

You might also be feeling:

  • grief at the death or disappearance of your adult child
  • ‘loss’ of your son or daughter to an addiction
  • anger at being placed in this situation
  • shame at your family’s situation
  • guilt that you’re somehow to blame
  • anxiety and uncertainty about the future.

As well as having to cope with your own feelings of grief and loss, you might also be helping your grandchild with her feelings.

Benefits of being a grandparent carer

Grandparent carers say that there are many benefits and joys to raising their grandchildren, including the chance to:

  • parent a second time – ‘In a way it’s a blessing, because I’ve got a chance now, with the wisdom I’ve got, to do a better job than I did the first time’
  • be close to your grandchildren as they grow – ‘The benefits are I’ve watched them growing up and now I can’t imagine my life without them’
  • enjoy your grandchildren’s achievements and celebrate them together
  • enjoy the opportunity to contribute to your grandchildren’s development by spending time with them
  • teach your grandchildren about their family history and culture
  • feel reassured and confident that your grandchildren are emotionally and physically safe, happy and cared for – ‘I think the main benefit for the grandchildren is the security and stability that they get; they know they can rely on me’
  • find a new lease on life – ‘They keep you younger, I think, because you have to be; you’ve got to be more active and organised’.

Video Grandparent carers: challenges, joys and the future

In this short video, grandparent carers talk about the challenges of looking after their grandchildren, including difficult relationships with their children. They say they get a lot of joy from caring for their grandchildren. A family support worker talks about how you have to change your life when you start caring for grandchildren.

Challenges of being a grandparent carer

Being a full-time carer for your grandchildren has its challenges.

Raising grandchildren can leave you feeling stressed. You might find yourself parenting again just as you were getting ready for a quiet retirement. Or you might be working and need to sort out child care for your grandchild.

The arrangements for the care of your grandchild can sometimes cause stress too. For example, you might have the care of your grandchild but no authority to make important decisions, or your grandchild’s parent might want your grandchild back. This can make everyday life difficult. You might feel isolated and unsure of what to do.

Traumatic event
If a traumatic event has led to your grandchild coming to live with you, it can cause other problems too. For example, your grandchild might have been abused or neglected by her parents. Or seeing a parent or parents in distress can set off a crisis for a child.

In a crisis, children have similar feelings to grown-ups, but children often show their feelings in actions rather than words. So you might need to deal with some difficult or unexpected emotions and behaviour from your grandchild.

Law and money
Legal and financial issues can be a challenge. For example, you might find that you’re spending your retirement savings on raising your grandchild. Costs can be high, especially if your grandchild has special needs.

Some grandparent carers also face complex legal issues relating to the care of their grandchildren. For example, you might need to go to the Child Protection Court or Family Court if other family members want to raise the child or have access visits.

Looking after yourself
Some grandparent carers have higher levels of depression and anxiety and more physical and emotional health problems than grandparents who aren’t carers.

It’s important to take care of yourself with regular exercise, good food, enough rest and medical check-ups, so you’ll be in better shape to care for your grandchild.

Video Grandparent carers: looking after yourself

Download video   29.7mb
In this short video, grandparent carers talk about the importance of looking after themselves physically and mentally. They talk about how they make time to exercise, socialise and keep active. They also discuss respite care and having support from other family members. A family support worker talks about caring for grandchildren when you’re older.

You can connect with other grandparents to share stories and ideas in our grandparents and kinship carers forum.
  • Last updated or reviewed 15-09-2016
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Dr Jan Backhouse, Centre for Children and Young People, Southern Cross University.