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.
Some grandparent carers say it’s as if their whole world has been turned upside down.
When your grandchild comes to live with you, you might provide care for a short time, until your grandchild’s parents can care for them. Or you could be raising your grandchild in the long term because your grandchild’s parents can’t do it themselves. 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.
Video Becoming a grandparent carer
In this short video, grandparents talk about becoming full-time carers of 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.
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 of your adult child
- ‘loss’ of your son or daughter to addiction to alcohol or other drugs
- anger at being placed in this situation
- shame at having to raise your grandchild
- guilt that you’re somehow to blame
- anxiety 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 and teaching them
- 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’.
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.
The family crisis that led to your grandchild coming to live with you can cause other problems. Seeing a parent or parents in distress can set off a crisis for a child. Or your grandchild might have been neglected because of what her parents were going through.
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 legal issues – for example, if other family members want to raise the child or have access visits.
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.
Research shows that some grandparent carers have higher levels of depression and anxiety and more physical and emotional health problems than grandparents who aren’t carers.
Making it work
Looking after yourself
Research shows that grandparent carers are focused on the care, safety and happiness of the children they care for. They sometimes forget to take care of their own health.
When you take care of yourself with regular exercise, good food, enough rest and medical check-ups, you’ll be in better shape to care for your grandchild.
You might find it difficult to ask for help, but it’s important to know that all carers need support. And there are services and support to help you.
Grandparents from all over Australia can find support and assistance through grandparent advisors and grandparent support groups such as My Time for Grandparents.
Here are some tips and ideas to help you as you start caring for your grandchild:
- Set up sleeping arrangements and places for your grandchild’s belongings.
- Have a regular routine for the way you and your grandchild do things.
- Grandparent carers are entitled to the same financial support as parents from the Australian Government. As a grandparent carer, you might also be able to get special payments from the Department of Human Services. You can also visit your nearest Centrelink service centre for more information.
- Financial assistance might also be available from state government family or community services departments. For more information on the range of supports available to grandparent carers, visit Family Relationships Online.
- Call the community legal service in your area, or the Legal Aid office, for advice on legal problems.
- Make an appointment with the child care director, teacher or principal at your grandchild’s school to discuss the new caring situation and any concerns you might have.
- Join a grandparent support group in your area and talk to other grandparent carers.
- Let family and friends know what’s happening – for example, ‘My grandson, Cameron, is living with me now’.
Video Grandparent carers: looking after yourself
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.
Helping your grandchild adjust
Helping your grandchild adjust will take time, patience and love. Here are a few other tips to help things along:
- Take your grandchild to the doctor for a check-up to find out whether there are any health or medical problems. If your grandchild has come into your care from child protection, she might have already have had a check-up.
Building a good relationship with your child’s school is one of the best ways to support your child’s education. You can get this relationship started by making an appointment to see your child’s classroom or home-room teacher or the school principal.
- Talk to other carers and parents you meet through your grandchild’s school or sporting activities. Friendships with other carers can be one of the bonuses of raising your grandchild.
- Help your grandchild make friends by inviting other children to play.
Encourage good behaviour by setting rules and boundaries, but also give your grandchild lots of hugs, praise and encouragement.