Becoming a grandparent carer

Many grandparents don’t expect a family crisis that leaves them to raise their grandchildren. They might have no idea that there’s a problem in their grandchildren’s family until the police or child protection authorities tell them their grandchildren are 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.

When your grandchildren come to live with you, it might be short term or it might be permanent. Sometimes you might not know how long you’ll be caring for your grandchildren.

Becoming a grandparent carer isn’t easy – and often it isn’t even a choice. Although it might not feel like it, you’re not alone – it happens to thousands of Australian families.

Our printable guide to being a grandparent or kinship carer has essential information about looking after children in your care, as well as looking after yourself.

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 feel relieved that your grandchildren will be emotionally and physically safe, happy and cared for with you. But you might also find it hard to go from being the ‘fun’ grandparent to being a grandparent carer who has to set rules and boundaries for children.

You might also feel:

  • 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.

Accepting your change in circumstances can take time. It might help to talk to family, friends or a counsellor about it.

Benefits of being a grandparent carer

Grandparent carers say that there are many benefits and joys to raising grandchildren. These benefits include the chance to:

  • parent a second time – for example, you might feel more confident because you have more parenting experience
  • be close to your grandchildren as they grow
  • 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 grandchildren about family history and culture
  • find a new lease on life – for example, your grandchildren might keep you more active.

Challenges of being a grandparent carer

Being a full-time carer for grandchildren can be challenging.

Stress
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 grandchildren. These things can be stressful.

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

Stress is a normal reaction to changes and challenges. Learning some stress management techniques can help.

Traumatic event
If a traumatic event has led to your grandchildren coming to live with you, it can cause other problems too. For example, in a crisis children have similar feelings to grown-ups, but children often show their feelings in actions rather than words.

You might need to manage some difficult or unexpected emotions and behaviour, talk about tough topics and support children in the aftermath of trauma.

Law and money
Some grandparent carers face legal issues relating to their grandchildren’s care. For example, you might need to go to the Child Protection Court or Family Court if other family members want to raise the children or have access visits.

You might also need to manage your money differently now you’re a carer. Costs can be high, especially if your grandchildren have special needs.

There are legal and financial services that can help you work out what’s best for the children and your situation.

Looking after yourself as a grandparent carer

Your extra responsibilities mean that it’s important to take care of yourself.

Some grandparent carers have higher levels of depression and anxiety and more physical and emotional health problems than grandparents who aren’t carers. With regular exercise, good food, enough rest and medical check-ups, you’ll be in better shape to care for your grandchildren.