According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 4.9 million grandparents raising grandchildren. If this group includes you, congratulations for stepping up to the plate. You are doing something amazing.

Assuming you love your grandkid(s) and the daily responsibilities are not too taxing on you physically and emotionally, your own age should have little or no bearing on your ability to be a wonderful substitute parent. Whatever the circumstances were that made it impossible for the mother to maintain an active role, your steady presence gives the child the needed sense of continuity and stability that he or she might not have otherwise.

Life Isn’t Easy for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

Of course, you want to be a great grandparent, but there will be many days when you feel frustrated and overwhelmed. After all, these are your golden years, and the point in your life when you thought you could finally relax and enjoy some “me” time.

Instead, depending on the age of the child, your time and energy is preoccupied with everything from diaper changes and excessive crying, to school conferences about poor grades or disruptive behavior, to worry about a teenager who is staying out too late or possibly using drugs or alcohol.

So Just Do the Best You Can!

As you face these and other challenges, keep in mind that you can only do so much. If you love your grandchild and you can also use your own wisdom and experience to guide him or her in the right direction, the results should be positive. But even then, there is no guarantee. You cannot control and shape every aspect of your grandchild’s behavior. So don’t berate yourself over it.

If the child’s mother turned to drugs or alcohol, or is incarcerated, or mentally ill, it is not your fault, and if your grandchild continues the cycle of negative behavior, it is not your fault either. There is a lot you can do to lessen the likelihood of this type of problem developing. But in this open society, you cannot prevent it with certainty.

That said, let’s take a look at six important principles for grandparents raising grandchildren today…

Provide Love, Warmth and Support

Your grandkids won’t always listen to you, and you won’t always approve of their behavior. But yelling and corporal punishment are not the answer. Calmly, but firmly, communicate your disappointment. Also, make more time for them. If it means missing a favorite TV program, play it later on your DVR. If it means leaving the Senior Center 1/2 hour early to attend your grandson’s or granddaughter’s recital or sporting event, do it.

At breakfast and dinner, join them and ask them about their activities for the day. If your grandchild is troubled about something, show that you care and would like to help.

Remember that Honesty is the Foundation of Any Good Relationship

Surely you want your grandchildren to honor and respect you. So treat them with honor and respect. If they are old enough to understand why it is you and not their parents taking care of them, be honest about it. For example, you might explain that their parents still love them, but they need to get help with a problem, so you are filling in for now. Also, reassure them that what happened with their parents is in no way their fault. Don’t let your grandchildren learn the truth from some other source or go through life hating their parents for abandoning them.

When I worked in child protective services, I encountered many grandmothers who had to take over the child care responsibilities because the mother was using drugs. Many children who were fortunate enough to be raised by a caring grandmother adjusted well even without the natural mother in the picture.

Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep

If your grandchild keeps crying out for mommy or demanding you buy the latest “must have” overpriced toy, game, or gadget, it’s tempting to take the easy way out and promise the moon and the stars. But if it’s not going to happen, it is a bad idea! Children need to understand from an early age, that they can’t have everything they want and that they need to be grateful for everything wonderful that they do have, and that includes you!

Let Your Grandchildren Be Kids

Kids today grow up very fast, probably too fast. As their grandparent, you are eager to impart your own wisdom to guide them on the path to becoming responsible, considerate, productive adults. Yes, that’s fine, but it is equally important to let your grandchildren maintain a healthy balance between behavior you can be proud of and simply having fun. Let your grandchildren be kids—play with other children, be adventurous, creative, spontaneous, silly, and unpredictable.

I just came back from visiting one of my nieces and her family: two boys, ages 8 and 3, and a girl, age 6. I see them often, but this time was extra special because one of my of my nephews and his wife and three kids were visiting from overseas. By the time you read this post, all six kids will be back in school. But on this summer day, the kids were playing, laughing, and singing non-stop, and enjoying every minute of it, as was their couldn’t have been prouder Aunt Barbara!

Establish a Routine and Provide Proper Discipline and Guidance

On the other hand, letting your grandchildren be kids doesn’t mean giving them free reign to do anything they want whenever they want. All children need structure and order in their daily lives, and it is your responsibility to provide it. Schedules, routines, and rules are important. Even if they object and retort back, I don’t want to clean my room,” or “No, I don’t want to do my homework,” they will respect you for exerting your authority, and in the long run, they will even appreciate it.

With one major upheaval in their lives already, the unavailability of their parents, your ability to provide a more stable and predictable environment can make a big difference to them.

Treasure Each Child’s Special Uniqueness

This sound principle comes from my older sister, Lucy. As the doting grandmother to 11 kids (I am their great aunt), Lucy says she loves being called “grandma.” Her advice, and she should know, is “Don’t compare grandchildren. It’s hurtful and unproductive. Each is unique with his/her qualities. Praise them lavishly, but advise them on ways to overcome their weaknesses.”

How well have you been applying these six principles to the raising of your own grandchildren? What other advice would you grandparents raising grandchildren based on your own experience? Please join the conversation.

LEARN MORE

Watch this interview with Barbara Nathan for more advice for grandparents raising grandchildren.

 

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