Looking after yourself: why it’s important for grandparent carers and kinship carers
As a grandparent or kinship carer, looking after yourself physically and emotionally helps you give the child in your care what they need to grow and thrive.
Looking after yourself involves:
- looking after your emotions, physical health and relationships
- taking time for yourself
- getting support
- being kind to yourself.
You’re probably already doing things to look after yourself. For example, you might have a friend you talk to when you need a laugh, or there might be a place you sit when you want to feel calm. It’s good to stop and notice the things you already do that make you feel good. This can remind you to do these things when life gets busy or challenging.
Emotions: grandparent carers and kinship carers
Being a grandparent or kinship carer gives you many opportunities to teach, nurture and encourage a growing child. You can share your culture and family values and traditions. You can also give the child a stable home through the ups and downs of life.
But it’s also natural to have mixed emotions about being a grandparent or kinship carer, especially at first.
For example, you might feel:
- relieved that the child will be emotionally and physically safe, happy and cared for with you
- confident about raising a child because you have a lot of parenting experience
- sad about going from just having fun with the child to setting rules and boundaries
- worried about whether you have the energy to do the job
- shocked, surprised or even angry, especially if you weren’t expecting the situation
- sad, upset or worried about your adult child or family member who can’t care for their child.
Working through emotions is good because it can help you stay emotionally strong. This means you’re better able to help the child grow up strong too. Some grandparent or kinship carers say these ideas help them with their emotions:
- Give yourself time to accept your change in circumstances and the emotions that come with it.
- Focus on the positives and keep the negatives in perspective. For example, when the child is safe in bed, remind yourself of the difference you’re making. The child is safe and growing healthy and strong because of you.
- Take a few minutes to do something you enjoy. This can make a big difference to your mood.
- If you feel overwhelmed by feelings like anger, anxiety or stress, take a short break from the child if this is safe. For example, you could sit quietly with a cup of tea in another room to calm down.
- Seek information about raising children. For example, this site has a lot of information. You could also call a parenting helpline for advice. This might help you feel more confident and in control of your situation.
- Talk to family, friends, your GP or a counsellor about your emotions.
If you need professional support for your emotional and mental health, talk to your GP about a mental health care plan. This gives you Medicare rebates for up to 20 mental health services sessions a year.
Children do better when they’re raised by kin who know them. This can help them grow up with a strong sense of identity and culture.
Physical health for grandparent carers and kinship carers
If you’re physically fit and well, you’ll have more energy to give the child in your care what they need to grow and thrive. You’ll also feel better able to navigate life’s ups and downs.
Some grandparent or kinship carers find these ideas help them stay physically fit and well:
- Try do some regular physical activity and eat a healthy diet.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Have regular check-ups with your GP.
- Deal with any health problems as they come up.
Top tip: walking is a great way to stay active and can also be good for stress. If you’re caring for babies or toddlers, you can take them with you in a pram or stroller. Older children might enjoy riding a scooter or skateboard to the park with you. This can give you a chance to sit and relax in the fresh air while you watch the child in your care play with other children.
Time for yourself
Taking a break is good for you, your family and the child in your care. Even 15 minutes each day doing something you enjoy will help. Try reminding yourself that you’ve earned it and remember – it doesn’t matter what you do with your time, as long as it’s something you enjoy.
Here are some ideas:
- Read a book or magazine, or check out a favourite website.
- Message or call a friend.
- Do a puzzle like Wordle or Sudoku.
- Do something creative like knitting or drawing.
- Weed the garden.
- Get up a bit earlier to have a cup of tea or coffee in peace.
- Watch a favourite TV show once the child is asleep.
Respite from caring responsibilities
If you need a longer break from your caring responsibilities, respite care might be an option.
If the child was put into your care by a child protection authority, you’ll need to talk to your case worker before organising respite care for the child.
Once you’ve done this, you could ask extended family or friends for help to care for the child. Or you could try organising swaps with other families, including other grandparent or kinship care families.
In some parts of Australia, there are camps and activities for carer families.
To find out about respite options in your local area, you can contact:
Healthy relationships for grandparent carers and kinship carers
Keeping up with family and friends is an important part of looking after yourself as a grandparent or kinship carer. It can remind you that other people care about you and the child in your care. Just having other people around can take the pressure off you. And you can talk to friends and family about what’s happening, and ask for help if you need it.
A little planning can help you stay in touch with friends and family. Here are some ideas:
- Try to spend time with extended family. For example, you could have a picnic at the park or a backyard barbecue. This can strengthen the relationships between the child in your care and other family members. It can also give you the chance to enjoy being with your other grandchildren, nieces, nephews and so on.
- Talk openly about the situation with other family members if you can, but it’s also OK to put limits on what you discuss. For example, you could say, ‘Ellery’s staying with me while her mum works some things out’. It’s a good idea to ask the child before you share information about them with others.
- If you’re caring for a school-age child, catch up with your friends during school hours.
- If you’re a member of a cultural or religious group, look into your organisation’s activities for children. These activities can give you a chance to catch up with your friends. They can also help children learn about their cultural or religious traditions and heritage.
If you’re finding it difficult to connect or talk with family, you could contact Relationships Australia for counselling, family mediation and support services.
Support groups for grandparent carers and kinship carers
Grandparent carers and kinship carers say that support groups are a great source of information and advice. They’re also a good way to become friends with people in similar situations and get emotional support.
You can find support groups for grandparent or kinship carers all over Australia. Australian Government Grandparent, Foster and Kinship Carer Advisers can help you find out about support groups in your area. You can call them on 1800 245 965.
If you have the care of a child with a child protection order, you can contact the foster care association in your state or territory. Some of these associations also help grandparent or kinship carers who have the care of a child without a child protection order.
There are also online groups for grandparent or kinship carers. You could try searching for a group on Facebook. If you join or follow a carers group on social media, check the privacy and security settings of your social media platform so people can’t see personal information about you or the child in your care.
Some grandparent carers face legal or financial issues relating to their grandchildren’s care. There are legal and financial services that can help you work out what’s best for the child and your situation.
Being kind to yourself as a grandparent carer or kinship carer
As a grandparent or kinship carer, you might sometimes be hard on yourself. You might compare your situation to other people’s, and judge your situation harshly. It can be easy to feel that you’re not doing enough to look after the child in your care, let alone to look after yourself.
It can help to aim for self-compassion. This means being kind to yourself even when things don’t happen the way you expect. It’s reminding yourself that you’re doing the best you can. And it’s being aware of your feelings and treating yourself with the same warmth, care and understanding you’d give to someone you care about.