Faith and Family — Grandparents parenting children: Grandparents urged to seek help of counselors, church body

Faith and Family — Grandparents parenting children: Grandparents urged to seek help of counselors, church body

By Rod Campbell, MA, LPC-S and Lisa Keane, MAMFC, LPC-S, RPT-S, NCC

I get a call like this nearly every week: the person says, “Mr. Campbell, we got your name from our pastor and we hope you can help. We have custody of our grandchildren and they are having some problems. We need to get an appointment with you as soon as we can.”  

The story unfolds from there. Maybe there has been abandonment, drug use, an arrest, a death or some other major issue with one or both of the parents. Or maybe the grandparents have simply had to step in for some other reason. Regardless this family has just become one of the growing numbers of families where grandparents find themselves as the primary caregivers for their grandchildren.

According to the 2010 U.S. census, approximately 5.4 million children live in a grandparent-headed household. Of those, just more than half live in a situation where the grandparents have the primary responsibility for meeting the child’s basic needs. 

These numbers began to climb in the 1970s and have continued to climb since, with researchers noting a spike since the economic downturn of 2007 and 2009. 

In Alabama, 67,653 children under the age of 18 live in a grandparent-headed household without a parent present and the number is growing.  

And the realities faced by grandparents raising their grandchildren can be quite difficult. Grandparents will have to deal with the emotional toll this situation has taken on the children. They also will need to face the emotional toll it takes on them since the circumstances leading to this situation usually involve their own pain and loss. 

They will be faced with the loss of their “grandparent” identity and will have to set aside their desire to spoil the grandkids rotten and figure out how to transition back into “parent” mode. They may experience financial strain of adding one or more children to their household. Many find themselves parenting in a completely different culture than they experienced the first time around. 

I often hear from grandparents who are overwhelmed at how technologically advanced their grandchildren are and they admit having a hard time providing proper oversight of screen time because they simply cannot conceive of the possibilities. 

Recently I was asked by a young teen for the WiFi password in my office. When I asked the grandmother if it was OK, she immediately said it was. I double checked with an explanation of how it worked, and she seemed shocked to learn he could access the Internet on an iPod.

Of all of these challenges, I think the most difficult to face may be dealing with the emotional impact a change in custody is likely to have on the kids. Karyn Purvis, director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, said there is no such thing as adoption or foster care without pain and loss. 

Children being raised by their grandparents have often experienced significant loss. They may have lost one or both parents to death, abandonment, incarceration, addiction or any number of other circumstances. They may have been required to move, incurring the loss of their home, friends, a familiar school or other extended family members. Even the loss of a pet due to the change in custody can be traumatic for a child at this point. And this loss can have a devastating effect on children. 

They may become irritable, withdrawn or outright angry. Children who were good students just a few months ago might suddenly struggle to bring home Cs or Ds. 

They may experience sleep disturbances, nightmares, have difficulty getting to sleep or be scared to sleep in a room alone. They may become controlling and demanding, especially in new circumstances, and may have difficulties with food, either eating too much or not enough.  

If these symptoms do not seem to decrease as time in your home grows, it could be time to seek help from a professional, like the ones you’ll find at Pathways Professional Counseling and the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. 

Raising grandchildren in a culture that is much different than the first time you raised children can be overwhelming. 

Whether you speak to a youth pastor, pastor, counselor or other friends, allow them to help you see what might be going on and allow them to help you. This is what the church body is for. Allow them to help you raise up your grandchildren in a healthy, loving environment. 


Helpful tips for grandparents


1. Ask for help.

2. Do not be afraid to say you do not understand something or need a younger person to explain how something works.

3. Be in contact with your child’s school counselor. They can be a great resource for you.

4. Take a course on technology from a local group. Many local libraries offer these services.

5. Connect with others who are in a similar situation as you are. Ask at your church or job to see if there is someone you can connect with that has been down this path before.

6. Be consistent with your grandchildren. Children need boundaries and need to know what to expect. Although it may not have been your role before, embrace being the one who is going to set limits for them.

7. Find respite care for your family when possible. You need a break.

8. Take care of yourself. You need to focus on self-care and making sure you are physically and mentally in good shape. If you are taking care of yourself, you will be better able to take care of your grandchildren.

9. Pray. Pray that the Lord will provide help and understanding for you. Pray that the Lord will grant you serenity and peace among the chaos. The more you can be an emotional anchor for your grandchildren, the better this situation will be. 

10. Contact a counselor if you feel your grandchild needs outside help to deal with the loss or transition. 

Source: Rod Campbell and Lisa Keane