If you’re parenting your grandchildren, whether temporarily or permanently, it’s normal to wonder how you can handle—and thrive in—your unique role. First, know you’re not alone. Grandparents raising their grandkids is an increasingly common family dynamic for a variety of reasons. Within military families, children might stay with relatives during a parent’s deployment, to avoid relocation during a parent’s PCS, or in the event a parent is injured or passes away. Gain confidence embarking on this journey with the following tips.
Embrace mixed emotions.
It’s typical to have some mixed feelings about changes in plans or expectations. On one hand, you get to spend more time together, see your grandkids grow, and provide them with a stable home. On the other hand, you might be worried about how you can manage more stress and responsibilities at this time in your life. Maybe you’re already a caregiver to your own parents or have a steady job you have to balance or think about changing. Keep in mind it’s normal to experience these emotions, and your negative feelings don’t mean you don’t love your grandkids. The key is to find healthy ways to express how you feel.
Take a positive approach.
Focus on the positives by thinking about the benefits and joys of raising your grandchildren. They’ll gain a sense of security and stability by sharing a home with you. And you’ll feel a sense of purpose from having them rely on you. You even might feel younger from playing and talking with them on a daily basis. You’ll learn about their perspective on the world. Think of it as a chance to develop a new, deeper bond with them. Plus, you get to use your wisdom and insight from when you were a parent to teach and impact children again. You got this!
Prepare for change.
Whether you’re new to this role in caring for your grandchildren or you’ve been doing it for a while, you’ll want to have an official family care plan once you become a caregiver or legal guardian of your grandchildren through a power of attorney. A second big change might involve having to move. Perhaps your grandchildren will move in with you, or you’ll move into their home. Either way, try to make the adjustment a fun experience. You’ll also need to develop a budget for school or daycare expenses, medical needs, food, and more. Talk with your grandkids’ parent(s) about how to handle the kids’ expenses while they’re under your care. It’s also important to think about how you can best manage schedules, routines, and privacy changes while you’re living together. Let your grandkids know you’re now acting as their parent and have more responsibilities.
Engage in self-care.
Parenting full time again might leave you feeling emotionally and physically drained at times, so it’s important to take care of yourself. Tell your grandkids when you need a break. Keep up with doctor’s appointments, medications, eating well, and exercise to stay healthy. Take time out to do hobbies that bring you joy, even if you don’t include your grandkids. It can feel easy to isolate yourself and keep the stress inside, so talk with friends and family about the changes in your lives. And reach out to social supports who can help with childcare every now and then. As needed, seek help from a mental health professional to better cope with the challenges, feelings, and thoughts that accompany taking on this role.
Consider your grandchildren’s point of view.
Your grandchildren might experience mixed feelings as they adjust to the loss of regular contact with their military parent, but they also might be excited to spend time with you (whether they admit it or not). Help them identify their feelings and explore healthy ways to express themselves. Some kids might have a hard time finding constructive ways to share negative feelings and act out or withdraw. Others might start off fine and then develop unwelcome behaviors later on. Try not to take things personally. Remember, it’s important to empathize, love, and support each other.
Another way to help children during this tough time is to be flexible while creating rules and expectations. Children thrive with age-appropriate rules, routines, and consistency. Allowing them to feel part of establishing those rules or expectations can change how they react to stress. For example, try letting them choose their own consequences for negative behavior. (Remember, deployed parents can help with discipline, too.) Encourage contact with their military parent through care packages, phone calls, letters, text messages, and email.
Leverage your resources.
If possible, check in with the military parent as much as you can. Make a list of items you want to share with them, including what’s working at home and what’s not—and be open to feedback. It’s important to portray a united front while the military parent is away. Connecting with family members, friends, and other military families in similar situations to help you learn about their experiences and feel less alone. If your grandchildren go to school, let the staff know you’re caring for the children. And ask teachers to touch base if your grandkids experience behavioral changes or a dip in academic performance.
If you live near a base, take advantage of the many services and resources available. For childcare, consider registering at the local DoD Child Development Center or visit MilitaryChildCare.com for programs that can help subsidize costs. (There are often long waiting lists, so register as soon as you can.) Shop at the base commissary to take advantage of discounts on clothing and household items. Explore base legal and financial assistance programs as needed.
Connect with local social services too, including nutrition assistance, Medicaid, and other support services that can help ease your financial burden. Many organizations also provide respite care, parenting classes, and other kid-friendly resources. Some places of worship might offer babysitting, financial help, refreshers on discipline, or other support as well.
When you’re part of a military family (even as grandparent), tackling change and finding growth come with the territory. If a part of your family’s journey includes caring for your grandchildren, know that it’s normal to sometimes struggle with taking on that role. But, with a few basic strategies you and your grandchildren can navigate your time together with success.