Do you have any advice for an older couple who have long-term custody of their grandchildren? Our two young grandkids are living with us and probably will be for some time. How do we provide them with a loving home without losing our sanity?
Before getting to that last point – the preservation of your sanity – there are a couple of things we need to address. First, we want to commend you and thank you for having the courage to assume this formidable responsibility. Not everyone at your age and stage of life would have been able or would have done the same thing in your place. It's important to give credit where credit is due, and you folks deserve a healthy helping of recognition and praise. It's hard to imagine a worthier goal or a more heroic undertaking than that of giving your grandchildren a loving, stable and family-centered home life. It's our firm conviction that the kids will one day rise up and call you blessed for the sacrifice you're making on their behalf.
The second item we'd like to bring up is something you may have already considered. If you're to succeed in your central purpose – that of providing long-term security for your grandchildren and laying a firm foundation for their future – you'll want to take steps to ensure that they're provided for in case anything should happen to you or their parents. We're speaking here of legal documentation, such as a will, that spells out your wishes and intentions in detail. If you haven't yet taken care of this matter, it's fairly easy to sit down with a lawyer and draw something up that will meet the need. We suggest you make an appointment to discuss the specifics with your attorney at the earliest opportunity.
But to come to the business at hand: you're wise to consider steps that will help safeguard your health, serenity and mental stability in the midst of the challenges you've taken on. You've been this route before, of course, but raising kids can be a very different proposition when it's tackled for the second time in mid-life. Your energy levels aren't what they were back in your 20s and 30s, and you're probably dealing with health issues of your own. Somehow or other you need to find ways to give proper attention to your needs if you're to survive and stay effective on the job. If you don't take care of yourselves, you won't be in any condition to take care of the kids.
An important element of self-preservation is the building and maintenance of a strong support system. In addition to being demanding and exhausting, the task of caring for children can have an isolating effect on Grandma and Grandpa. Don't allow yourself to be cut off from friends, neighbors or family members who understand what you're up against and who can come alongside you when you need them. Nurture solid friendships. Admit that there are limits to what one person can do and then seek some outside help.
One way to do this is to join a support group . Groups designed specifically for grandparents raising grandchildren can be found in almost every community. A good place to begin looking for more information about your options in this area is the U.S. Government's website on Grandparents Raising Grandchildren.
You should also make an intentional effort to get the regular relief you need in order to renew your energies . Never feel guilty about getting away for a break – an evening out with friends, dinner for the two of you at a nice restaurant, or a relaxing drive to a different environment. Refresh yourself with hobbies, outings and activities that you enjoy – a symphony, a game of golf, or an exercise class at the gym. Taking some time off for yourself is not a sign of weakness, and it will help you more than you may realize. To do this, you may need to hire a babysitter or ask a relative to help out while you're gone. Another possibility is to let the kids spend the day with another family that has children of its own. There are also a number of options available to parents, grandparents, foster parents, and other care-givers who are looking for ways to keep kids occupied and happy while they take a well-deserved breather. Day-care centers, summer camps, church youth groups, vacation Bible schools, after-school clubs, sports programs, and short-term mission trips are some to name just a few.
In addition to these strategies, we'd strongly recommend that you touch base with a professional Christian counselor on a semi-regular basis. Ideally this should be an individual who understands attachment issues. You didn't tell us exactly how you ended up getting custody of your grandkids, but we're assuming that it had something to do with events of a relatively tragic or traumatic nature such as death, divorce, neglect or some type of abuse. Children from troubled or unsettled backgrounds (and this can include missionary kids, third-culture kids and kids with special needs) generally experience difficulty forming new attachments. Since attachment and trust go hand in hand, you can expect this issue to have a significant impact on your attempts to forge a new family unit and build a safe and loving environment for the children in your home.
If you need further help sorting out these ideas and applying these recommendations, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.