In recent weeks, a number of stories in the media have highlighted a unique family set-up that is more common than we often realise. This is an excerpt from our Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Toolbox course.
We probably haven’t said it in a while but we think you’re marvellous. At a stage in life when many people are leaning back and taking things easy, you are back in the saddle, being a parent of kids again. That takes heart and guts. You might be thinking you didn’t have a choice – things happened and the kids ended up with you and you are stuck with them. But you know that isn’t strictly true. If you hadn’t cared deeply about those kids, you could have refused and we honour you and admire you for taking up that challenge.
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Grandparents love being visited by their grandkids, they can play with them, spoil them, fill them up with sugar, Coke and food colouring and then send them back to their parents to settle down, high as kites. But now those kids have arrived at your door with their suitcases and you are now their full-time carer for the foreseeable future – your home isn’t Disneyland any more, this is their home. This is the place where they have to get disciplined and do homework and do chores. And that will be uncomfortable for them and certainly uncomfortable for you.
They may be prickly because they don’t want to be at your place. Of course they love you but even if they don’t really understand the reasons, they know things have fallen apart and this isn’t how they dreamt their life would be. Your grandkids are probably not yet wise and mature enough to appreciate all that you are doing and how good a home you are providing, and pointing that out to them certainly won’t help. They’ve been hurt and unfortunately hurt people can be hurtful – so try not to take it too personally. That is easier said than done.
One thing is always going to pay off in the long run and that is being completely loyal to your grandkids’ parents. Of course you have opinions about the circumstances that resulted in you now having to be called up as caregiver. Maybe there has been selfishness and foolishness, drugs, crimes, affairs and you might be deeply disappointed in your own children and resentful of the way that they and their partners have conducted themselves but you’re going to have push that down inside and just share it with your best mate. You’re definitely not going to be sharing these views with your grandkids.
For the sake of their self-esteem, you are going to be as generous as you can in the way you describe their parents. Even if they don’t understand the biology, they know that their identity is linked to those parents. If they are monsters or idiots, then they will soon think that that is what they are probably going to be as well. Perhaps in the future, they will be mature enough to hear your perspective of events but in the meantime, hold your peace. In fact, tell them stories about their Mum and Dad when they were little and cute, and they will love that.
Another thing you must protect your child from is thinking that somehow they are to blame for whatever has happened to their family. Especially after a divorce, kids use immature logic and come to the conclusion that somehow they caused their parents to break up. They also might blame themselves if their parents make promises and fail to keep them, or have abandoned them in some way. “Honey, I don’t know why your Mummy hasn’t come to see you this weekend. It must be very disappointing for you. It’s certainly nothing you’ve done wrong.”
It will be particularly disturbing if you actually have to protect your grandchildren from dangerous parents. In those cases, it’s best to stick to facts without adding in your judgements. “I’m afraid you can’t go to Steve’s place. I’ve been told it isn’t safe for you. Maybe that will change. I hope it does but at the moment, you need to be safe here with Grandma.”
This stuff is hard. Your hearts and especially little kids’ hearts, will be hurt and broken by some of the things that go down. But what your kids desperately need in tough times is a big-hearted person who is completely committed to them. Your love will heal the hurts that they have had and will protect them from shocks ahead. As I said, we think you’re marvellous. You are our heroes.
Attend a Toolbox parenting course
Toolbox courses inspire and equip whānau. They are bursting with great advice, humour and encouragement, offering practical strategies and insights into developmental stages. Parents leave reassured that challenges are common to all families and that they’re not alone on their parenting journey. The courses are run over a number of weeks in a relaxed and conversational small group setting with a trained facilitator. The five courses – Building Awesome Whānau, Baby and Toddler Years, Primary Years, Intermediate Years, and Teenage Years. Find out more and register here.